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Crime

Newmarket justice of the peace says she was betrayed by lawyer husband, convicted bigamist

WATCH ABOVE: As Catherine McDonald reports, Morton's wife and Justice of the Peace Rhonda Shousterman told the court how her husband's lies and deceit have ruined her life.

The wife of a once well-respected Ontario and Nunavut lawyer who pleaded guilty to bigamy and forging divorce documents in April says her husband’s double life and the media coverage surrounding the case has destroyed her life, left her financially strapped and humiliated.

Rhonda Shousterman, a justice of the peace at the Newmarket courthouse, delivered an emotional 20-minute victim impact statement at her husband James Morton’s sentencing hearing in the very courthouse where Shousterman sits on the bench.

Shousterman told Justice Howard Borenstein that her world and her life as she knew it ended on the afternoon of June 22, 2018 when she met with York Regional Police who told her that Morton and Jennifer Packwood, a law clerk who worked at Morton’s firm in Hamilton, had been living together since 2016.

READ MORE: Prominent Ontario lawyer pleads guilty to bigamy, forging divorce documents

Shousterman said she had encouraged Morton, the husband she adored, to accept a teaching job in Florida for the fall of 2017 and said she even visited him there. But Shousterman was told by detectives during that period of time, Morton was living with Packwood.

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She said she had no idea Morton was cheating on her because they spoke several times a day by phone, they socialized as a couple as they had done since getting married in 1990 and even went on holidays together. Shousterman and Morton also attended Packwood’s wedding in 2010.

“Cheating is bad enough … but this is way beyond cheating,” said Shousterman.

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“I have since learned that this affair could have been going on for a lot longer than since 2016 and continued after his arrest. This is stunning. In addition to the emotional betrayal, James impoverished me. I have since learned they James paid the rent and expenses on Jennifer’s townhouse by diverting monies from us to her.”

Shousterman called Morton actions criminal, amoral, unethical and deliberate.

“Even when both of them knew that police were investigating the fake divorce order, they still went ahead with a bogus wedding.”

Packwood delivered her victim impact statement in April when Morton pleaded guilty and told the court she was duped into believed Morton was divorced. Packwood has never been charged.

According to an agreed statement of facts, Morton proposed to Packwood in March 2017 and planned to get married in October 2017. But Packwood delayed the wedding because Morton’s divorce had not been finalized.

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Unbeknownst to Morton, Packwood sent an articling student to the Newmarket courthouse in April 2018 with a false divorce order that Morton had shown Packwood and put in a dresser drawer of the home they shared. Packwood was unaware it was fake. It was then York Regional Police were called in after the clerk realized the court file number on the order did not exist and the judge’s signature had been copied.

Packwood later told Morton the articling student was unable to get the certificate of divorce at which point he said he would take care of it. Morton ended up getting a marriage license by using a fraudulent certificate of divorce he created.

Morton and Packwood were married on May 12, 2018 in Niagara on the Lake. Just a day earlier, Morton had agreed to meet with police but put it off for a week.

Crown Attorney Rob Scott told the court in summarizing the aggravating factors in the case that “Morton went ahead with the bogus wedding knowing police were investigating.”

Scott proposed a six-month conditional sentence with the first four months to be served under house arrest and the remaining two with a midnight curfew.

READ MORE: Three adults in polyamorous relationship declared legal parents of child

Packwood asked for a non-contact order with Morton.

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Scott stated he still questions why this bright, intelligent lawyer committed these offences, saying Morton does not really have an answer for that. He said a forensic psychiatrist who Morton has seen suggested he suffers from burnout.

“It’s really quite odd that a capable, intelligent man is making such irrational decisions,” concluded Scott.

Stephen Bernstein, Morton’s lawyer, proposed a discharge, saying, “Police did nothing to stop an illegal marriage.” Bernstein said his client will never practice law again.

READ MORE: Lethbridge man charged with bigamy

“The issue is whether he will be allowed to resign or will he be disbarred?” said Bernstein.

Three lawyers also attended court to show support for Morton, including criminal lawyer Anita Szigeti, who called Morton “a mentor,” and called him a “go-to person for ethical dilemmas.”

When Morton had a chance to address the court, he stood up and apologized to those he has hurt and said although he’s nearly 60 years old, he now has to start from the absolute bottom.

“I have lost everything and I’ve done so in a fashion that is inexplicable even to me. What I did couldn’t have worked,” Morton said.

READ MORE: Judge hears argument in reality TV ‘Sister Wives’ challenge of bigamy law

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“I lied repeatedly in an unbelievable fashion. My conduct was completely irrational.”

Morton also told that court he has applied for jobs at Staples, Metro and Canadian Tire, but has yet to get an interview.

“Uber and Lyft would not consider me because of the charges,” he said.

Morton will be sentenced in September.

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