Well-known Canadian lawyer is arrested and reported to law society, but a professor says allegations touch on larger ethical debates.
A sole practitioner at Morton Barristers in Hamilton, Ontario, James Morton has been arrested and charged over allegations related to bigamy and forgery. A hearing is scheduled for August 13 before the Law Society of Ontario’s tribunal in Toronto.
According to a hearing notice, the law society is seeking to restrict or suspend Morton’s licence ‘on the basis that there are reasonable grounds for believing that there is a significant risk of harm to members of the public, or to the public interest in the administration of justice.’ Mr Morton was arrested and charged after he surrendered himself to the police, and the law society was informed of related criminal charges including forgery by making a false divorce order. In an affidavit, his wife told a detective she had never been served with divorce papers. The law society alleges Mr Morton then got married again using allegedly forged divorce documentation. The Law Society of Ontario directory states Mr Morton was called to the bar in 1988, focuses on Aboriginal law, civil litigation, criminal and quasi-criminal law.
In a report in the Canadian Lawyer, Rebecca Bromwich, a sole practitioner lawyer and professor at Carleton University's Department of Law and Legal Studies, said she was saddened by the allegations. Noting allegations have not been heard out in court and citing innocence until proven otherwise, she suggested the nature of Mr Morton’s alleged relationships are not clear. Ms Bromwich explained, ‘oftentimes, when you are talking about polyamory and polygamy, it’s actually a consensual relationship between adults and no one is deceiving anybody. In our society, we don’t criminally sanction adultery, same-sex marriage. It’s this whole notion that Pierre Trudeau said about keeping the law out of the bedroom. Why is the law still there in a polyamorous relationship or when there is some messiness and overlap between different partnerships?’ Ms Bromwich says the allegations against Morton touch on several larger, general ethical debates surrounding the law’s treatment of alleged sexual impropriety and, separately, the issue of one’s duty as an officer of the court. She concluded, ‘the real issue here from a disciplinary perspective . . . is about somebody not being honest, allegedly in their dealings as a professional.’