Law Society of Ontario Tribunal panel chairwoman Margot Blight said at a hearing in Toronto on Friday that Ontario lawyer James Morton’s licence is suspended on an interlocutory basis.
The order of interlocutory suspension will be effective Aug. 21, which means that Morton will be temporarily unable to practise after he appears at a previously scheduled court appearance on Aug. 20, on behalf of a young offender that will be made aware of Morton’s situation. Blight said at the hearing in Toronto that the lawyer has consented to an interlocutory suspension of his licence to practise law.
Morton, a sole practitioner at Morton Barristers in Hamilton, Ont., who was not present at the hearing, faces criminal charges that include: forgery by making a false divorce order; forgery by making a false divorce certificate; using, dealing with and acting as a document was genuine knowing it to be forged; obstructing, perverting or defeating the course of justice by falsifying court documents to facilitate an unauthorized divorce; signing a marriage licence application knowing he had no authority to administer the oath; unlawfully going through a form of marriage; and procuring a feigned marriage, said the law society tribunal file.
The law society alleges that Morton’s articling student was instructed in April by law clerk Jennifer Packwood to file divorce papers for Morton and his wife at the Newmarket Superior Court. Morton then got married to Packwood on May 12, law society file No No.: 18H-093 said, despite using allegedly forged divorce documentation.
Morton surrendered himself at the York Regional Police Station on June 26, when he was arrested and charged, a previously released affidavit of law society investigator Brian Borg said. Borg’s affidavit also said that Morton’s wife told a detective that she was never served with divorce papers.
At the hearing, Blight asked Susan Heakes, who represented the law society, whether evidence beyond the criminal charges directly tied Morton to any of the allegedly forged documents. Heakes said that while a stamp with Morton’s name was used, the law society’s hands were “tied” in terms of evidence as Morton was “rightly” advised by his counsel, Stephen Bernstein, not to respond to questions about the charges in an early-stage interview.
It is not uncommon that the law society’s abilities are somewhat hampered by the system, Heakes said at the hearing. Morton's counsel Stephen Bernstein said he had no other submissions for the panel. He also said that, while the case has been highly publicized, it will not be argued “in the press.”
Morton, who focuses on Aboriginal law, civil litigation, criminal and quasi-criminal law, according to the LSO directory, is well known through his past position as president of the Ontario Bar Association.
Blight, a partner in Borden Ladner Gervais LLP’s public law, labour and employment and education law groups, was joined on the panel by Fred Bickford, a Thunder Bay, Ont. lawyer, and Jan Richardson, manager of homelessness prevention for the city of London, Ont. and an appointed bencher at the Law Society of Ontario.
Neither Bernstein nor a spokeswoman for the law society were immediately available to comment on the outcome of the hearing. Costs will be reserved to the panel hearing the main motion, Blight said at the hearing.