Personal dignity was what Doug Morton stood for

“Only 5 to 10 percent of today’s kids get into trouble with the courts. And 80 percent of first time offenders don’t come back.”

With those words, Doug Morton typified the attitude that made him one of Canada’s most respected juvenile and family court judiciaries. A quiet man, with a round face and black eyes, Judge Morton is probably responsible for more personal reformations among troubled teens and their families than anyone else in this region.

At the helm of Youth Court and Family Court in Barrie for over 15 years, Judge Morton had the uncanny ability to look at a young offender, size up the kid’s situation, and come up with a sentence that became a turn-around for many who appeared before him.

When I interviewed Doug for a magazine article on vandalism in 1982, he put kids in perspective… the vast majority of them are terrific, better educaated, and more honest, more direct than the generation that went before them. Those ‘kids’ Doug talked about are adults today, and the ones who appeared in his court were forever changed for the experience.

One local businessman told me recently that it was Judge Morton who looked over his dark-rimmed glasses, locked his eyes with his young charge and challenged him to lick the bottle and build a decent life. This same man credits Doug Morton with the sobriety and healthy family life that belongs to him [the businessman] today.

People in Barrie knew Doug Morton even if they never darkened the door of a court room, but it was his scrutiny and fairness during custody cases, his impeccable ability to be as fair as possible to everyone in his court room that made him so revered in legal circles. Family support, custody of children, access of parents to their children, juvenile crime involving petty theft, shoplifting, joyriding, assault, breach of probation… this was the world in which Doug Morton worked, day after day, hearing case after case, making decisions that forever affected the lives of families.

It was a weight, a huge weight, and one Morton bore silently, listening carefully to legal arguments, looking beyond the obvious to question whether a young person was in school… living in a home with a stressed-out, working single parent… living in the stress of fighting parents… surviving in the midst of emotional upheaval. He was fair. And he never let one case influence another.

Anita McConnell worked with Judge Morton for years, handling the myriad of administration details so important in a judiciary environment. When Doug Morton died last Sunday, Anita lost a mentor, a confidante, a friend.

Anita remembers Doug Morton’s tireless efforts in developing sympathy, and then action, to build a facility for young offenders. He envisioned a place where kids on the wrong side of the law could develop a family setting, go to school, get the opportunity to turn their lives around. It took several years, but the Toronto St. facility opened in 1975 and its board of directors named it Morton House. Doug continued to support his namesake and now, 36 years later, Morton House has been instrumental in leaving footprints on the hearts and minds of hundreds of young people who’ve been given a second chance.

While most of Barrie knew Doug as Judge Morton, few knew about his life before being appointed to the bench. A respected civil litigation and family lawyer in the firm Morton & Malo from 1954 to 1970, Doug Morton worked his magic on the Toronto community with equal zeal to what he demonstrated in Barrie.

While a busy lawyer, he also served as a trustee for the Toronto Board of Education, becoming its Chairman in 1956. He was elected to the Canadian House of Commons in 1957 and represented the federal riding of Davenport until 1962.

The second world war interrupted Doug’s legal studies, and he was called to the Bar in 1947, two years after returning to Osgoode Hall, having obtained the rank of Captain and Adjutant of the North Shore Regiment, from New Brunswick, his place of birth.

Judge Morton’s war experiences often played themselves out in the management of his courtroom. Anita McConnell recalls trying to get his help with an administrative decision, streamlining ideas which needed approval. “Judge Morton would never tell me what to do. He’d launch into a war story and I’d think, ‘oh, here we go, another war story…’ and then I’d get back to my desk and as I mulled it over, he’d given me direction using an example from an earlier experience. Never did he tell me what to do.”

When the world lost Judge Morton last Sunday, we lost an amazing human being. His contributions to his world during his 85 years were significant; his impact everlasting. His wife Mona, his three adult children, Murray, Bruce and Jean, his grandchildren and sister all bear the legacy of an individual touched to the core with goodness. A life well lived.

Thanks, Doug. Fare well.