A lawyer who practises in Nunavut and Ontario is facing criminal charges and risks a suspension of his practice in Ontario for allegedly falsifying documents in order to wed his law clerk while already married.
James Cooper Morton, a lawyer with offices in Iqaluit and Hamilton, Ont., has been charged with bigamy — the act of marrying someone while already married to another person — procuring a feigned marriage, as well as other forgery-related accusations.
Morton could also have his licence suspended in Ontario based on the accusations, according to a motion filed by the province's law society.
In June, Morton surrendered himself to York Regional Police and was released on a promise to appear in court, according to documents filed by the Law Society of Ontario. He had his first appearance at the Ontario Court of Justice in Newmarket on Thursday.
The information provided through the law society alleges Morton forged divorce documents to facilitate a marriage to a woman who is his law clerk in Hamilton.
The allegations have not been proven in court.
Morton is accused of trying to divorce his wife, a justice of the peace, in Newmarket, by using the false documents, according to the affidavit.
Morton allegedly had his articling student file the false divorce documents to Newmarket Superior Court where a clerk contacted police, according to an affidavit by an investigator with the law society.
The clerk at the courthouse was concerned about the divorce papers, and could not find any record of a divorce action or the file number. That's when she contacted police, according to documents provided by the Law Society of Ontario.
Attempts by the CBC to reach Morton were not successful.
Tribunal in Toronto this month
Morton is a prominent defence lawyer in Nunavut, and a noted civil and criminal lawyer in Ontario. He is a former president of the Ontario Bar Association and a former faculty member at Osgoode Hall law school and Humber College. He has 50 active files — 20 of which are in Nunavut, according to the affidavit.
He moved back to Hamilton last summer, after practising in Nunavut for a decade, according to his website.
The Law Society of Ontario claims there is "significant risk of harm to members of the public" or the public interest and wants Morton's licence suspended or restricted until a tribunal can hear the case.
He will appear in front of the Law Society Tribunal in Toronto on Aug. 13.
'We're here to protect the clients of Nunavut': law society
Alison Crowe, the president of the Law Society of Nunavut, says the organization is looking into whether disciplinary action is needed, but will probably only know in the next few weeks.
For now, Morton is still able to practice in Nunavut, unless the society decides to suspend his licence in the territory. Even though the allegations are related to personal matters in Ontario, the Nunavut law society will consider any conduct related to suspension or disbarment in another jurisdiction.
Morton's legal aid clients with questions should contact any of the legal aid clinics in Nunavut, and private clients should contact the law society in Iqaluit, Crowe said.
"We're here to protect the clients of Nunavut, we're not here to protect the lawyers of Nunavut," Crowe said.
"Any client who has any concern about his or her treatment by any lawyer, including Mr. Morton, is welcome to contact the law society."
Morton is also known for his regular column in local Nunavut newspaper Nunatsiaq News, in which he explains general legal information.
Bigamy carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.