As It Happens

'It was a lie,' says law clerk who married her boss, only to learn he faked his divorce

Jennifer Packwood married a prominent lawyer in 2018, believing he was divorced from his wife. But it turns out he had forged his divorce documents.

James Morton pleaded guilty to forging divorce papers so he could marry his long-time law clerk

James Morton has pleaded guilty to charges of forgery and bigamy after he faked his divorce so he could marry Jennifer Packwood, right. (Submitted by Jennifer Packwood)


Jennifer Packwood doesn't blame herself for what James Morton did to her — but it's been a long road getting there.

Packwood, a Hamilton law clerk, married Morton, a prominent Ontario and Nunavut lawyer, in 2018, believing he was divorced from his wife, a justice of the peace in Newmarket, Ont.

But it turns out Morton was still legally married and had forged legal documents to get his certificate of divorce.

Morton pleaded guilty in May to forgery and bigamy  His licence has since been suspended, and he will be sentenced in September. 

At a sentencing hearing this week, Morton's wife described how her husband's actions destroyed her life. And she's not alone. Packwood spoke to As It Happens guest host Megan Williams about what it was like to be duped by the man she loved.

Here is part of their conversation. 

You began to date James Morton in 2016. What did he tell you about where his relationship with ... his wife, stood at the time?

I believed that they were separated, although living together in the same home. ... It was a marriage of convenience.

James told you he got a divorce, and you ended up getting married — or at least you thought you were getting married — in May 2018. Can you tell me about that wedding day?  What what did it mean to you?

I remember having everybody that was really, really close to me there. It was a small, intimate wedding. It was beautiful. It was absolutely beautiful, you know. Yeah, it was one of the best days of my life.

And who did you think you were marrying?

I thought that I was marrying my best friend, my confidant, someone that I had spent the last 10 years with. You know, someone that had loved me back. Someone that was willing to let me grow in the direction that I wanted to grow in.

Should I have known? Could I have known? What did I miss? And there's nothing. There's absolutely nothing. It was that well hidden.- Jennifer Packwood, victim of forgery and bigamy 

At what point, then, did things begin to unravel?

At the police station.

So you were married in May 2018. How long after did that incident at the police station take place?

About a month after. I was at work one day and this detective called me and she said, you know, "I'm calling from York Region. I'm coming to Hamilton tomorrow. Could you meet me at the police station?"

And I'm like, "What's this about?"

And she says, "I can't tell you what this is about."

And then I remembered ... that James also had a meeting in his calendar for a month earlier for a police officer ... and I asked him why he had to go meet with the police officer in York Region. He said it was for a client.

And that appointment in his calendar was no longer there.

And that struck me because all of the meetings that he normally had with clients and the like were all still in his calendar — but that meeting for a month prior was gone.

So he got rid of it?

Yeah. I called him and he was in Oakville on the way back. And I said, "Hey, I just got a call from the detective from York Region who wants me to meet her tomorrow morning. Any idea what this is about?"

And he was like, "I don't know what this is about. I have no idea."

And I knew better than that because now I knew that, like I said, a month prior there was a meeting. 

So by the time he came home, I changed my tune and I said, "I'm going to tell you something. I'm going there tomorrow morning and I know that you know why I have to go. So it's not fair for me to go there tomorrow morning and find out why I'm going when I know you know. Why am I going tomorrow morning?"

And he went into the drawer like it was nothing and pulled out the fake divorce order and says, "I'm not divorced."

"What? What do you mean you're not divorced? I don't understand."

He said, "Well, you need time to process this. You need time to understand this. So I'm just going leave so that you can understand this."

And he literally went and picked up his bag and he left.

What did the police officer tell you?

She sat there and unravelled everything. She told me that there was no separation agreement. They were never divorced. That the divorce documents that ... he had were forged from my own divorce documentation.

Wow. Like, nothing can prepare you for that. Nothing. It's just everything that I had believed for the last two years was just, it was a lie. Everything. Everything. And she just laid it out.

And, of course, he was a lawyer. So I gather he used his professional expertise to carry out the lie fairly successfully, for a while anyway.

I'm really good at figuring people out. I'm really good at being able to tell if someone's lying or if they're trustworthy. I have high emotional intelligence, which allows me to do that. And I missed it. Everything that he told me — I missed everything. I picked up on nothing.

It's taken a long time because I look back at it. Should I have known? Could I have known? What did I miss? And there's nothing. There's absolutely nothing. It was that well hidden.

Can you trust people still?

Yes, I can. Because this is one bad apple. It doesn't mean the whole tree is bad.

I certainly can't live the rest of my life blaming everybody else's situation on what I've just gone through. It's not fair. It's not right.

But at the same time, do I think about things a bit more? Sure I do. Absolutely I do. 

Can you trust yourself?

I can. I don't blame myself for what happened here. Not at all. I mean, I've had to learn how to forgive myself for not knowing. But again, it's not something that I really need forgiveness for. It's not my fault.

And do you think you'll ever be able to forgive James Morton?

You know, I have. And I've done that for myself. I've done that for myself so that I can move on for the rest of my life. 

Forgiving does not mean forgetting. But, I mean, I don't look at this like, you know, the man screwed up my life. It's like, maybe you gave me a new opportunity to do something better with it.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.