Kevin Ireland created his blog in January 2008. He called it "My Divorce Sucks."
"If you are reading this then you probably know me," his first post begins. "I needed a way to let everyone know what is going on with my divorce without having to rehash things all the time."
Kevin's wife, Kimberly Ireland, had filed for divorce on March 19, 2007, after 14 years of marriage. The couple had a young son and a teenage daughter. Kevin worked an IT job, and Kimberly was a lawyer who had recently left her position at a large firm to become a partner in a new, storefront practice, McKee & Ireland LLC. Aaron McKee, Kimberly's law partner, was also serving as her attorney in the divorce.
What started as a simple legal proceeding between the Irelands soon mutated into a vicious, scorched-earth campaign. As court filings accumulated, the Irelands' respective attorneys poured gasoline on the flames. A Johnson County judge eventually called it a "classic War of the Roses-type situation" and described the Ireland family as "bizarre."
The Irelands' differences seemed irreconcilable, but when Kimberly phoned Kevin in July 2008, suggesting that they reunite, Kevin readily agreed. Friends say Kevin adored his wife and would have done anything for her.
"If anything, he was a doormat," says Alison McElroy, a friend and former co-worker of Kevin's.
Kimberly's offer was conditional: She wanted Kevin to fire his lawyer, Edward Byrne. In turn, Kimberly said she would rescind the requests for protective orders that she had filed against Kevin in Johnson County District Court. They could be a family again, Kimberly said, and maybe even move to Florida for a fresh start.
At the time, the $70,000 that Kevin estimated he had spent on legal fees made reconciliation that much more attractive. Ignoring warnings from friends and family, Kevin did as Kimberly asked. He fired Byrne, sold his refrigerator and his washer and dryer, cashed his 401(k), and asked his boss for permission to transfer to his company's Florida office.
Then Kimberly sent Kevin a text message announcing that she had changed her mind.
Kevin was humiliated. On Friday, July 18, 2008, he sent text messages to Kimberly and his mother, then chased a handful of pills with alcohol. When Kimberly, who had a key to his townhouse, let herself in to check on him, she discovered him unconscious and called for an ambulance. He recovered at Olathe Medical Center and spent two weeks at a psychiatric hospital before returning home.
It might have been the cruelest chapter in the Irelands' battle, but it wasn't the weirdest.
If the ferocity of a legal dispute can be measured in the amount of paperwork its parties generate, the Irelands' divorce isn't the nastiest in Johnson County's recent history. That title most likely belongs to the split between Ronald Deffenbaugh, the wealthy founder of the region's largest trash collection company, and his first wife. A Johnson County domestic lawyer — one of the few who wasn't involved in that litigation — calls that case, filed in 1990, "truly legendary." The physical files in the Deffenbaugh divorce have been destroyed, but the lawyer estimates that there were as many as 1,000 separate filings, enough to fill a small storage room.
The Deffenbaugh divorce was understandably huge because it involved millions of dollars in assets. The Irelands, by contrast, had hardly any marital assets or property to dispute. In 2007, Kevin and Kimberly were still paying off their student loans and had no more than $15,000 in equity in their Lenexa home.
At the height of their legal battle, a judge reminded the Irelands that they owed it to their children to come to an agreement. "Get your kids' pictures out of your billfolds and blow them up and put them on the wall," he instructed.
Who prolongs a divorce that should have cost no more than $10,000 and should have lasted no longer than six months, to the detriment of one's own children, finances and health? Kevin's friend McElroy, who eventually became tangled in the litigation herself, has no explanation. With a laugh, she says, "She [Kimberly] would never tell anyone what she wanted. Kevin — I swear to God — he asked a thousand times if he asked once."
Kimberly and Kevin grew up in Valley Center, Kansas, three hours southwest of Kansas City. They were grade-school sweethearts who married in 1992, when they were both 19. Their first child was born that same year.
Kevin earned degrees in accounting and computer programming at Wichita State University. Kimberly also graduated from WSU, then found work as a paralegal. Eventually she enrolled in law school at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. She passed the bar exam and was hired at a large firm, Baker Sterchi Cowden & Rice LLC, where she met McKee.
Kimberly became a partner in McKee's practice in November 2006. Kevin had little say in his wife's career move. As he put it, according to court transcripts, "I was informed by Ms. Ireland she was starting whether I wanted to stay married to her or not."
Case transcripts suggest that McKee and Kimberly were close. Kimberly testified in a hearing that she was with McKee at the hospital while his son underwent a medical procedure in 2006. Not long after the Irelands separated, according to the same hearing transcript, Kimberly accompanied McKee and his family on a vacation to Disneyland. (McKee would not comment for this story.)
Early in the divorce proceedings, Kevin was ordered to pay $2,200 a month in spousal and child support, based on the couple's reported annual income. Kevin made $87,000 a year. Kimberly reported her annual income as $24,000. Kevin's first attorney, Darrell Smith, argued that Kimberly was omitting the money she stood to earn as a partner in McKee & Ireland LLC, and that a report of the firm's finances was required to determine her true annual income. McKee refused to divulge that information, claiming that it "would be harmful in that competitors could utilize the documents to gain an unfair competitive advantage, and the opportunity to steal clients."
McElroy estimates that Kevin's monthly support payments to Kimberly ate up 85 percent of his pay. The court decided that the children should stay with their mother in their own home, so for a while, Kevin lived in his truck. McElroy was also going through an ugly divorce at the time and was struggling financially. She let Kevin move in with her until he found his own place.
McElroy soon found that anyone who stood with Kevin became a target of Kimberly's wrath. "She had a huge problem with Kevin moving in with me," McElroy says. "That's absolutely when my trouble started. They [Kimberly and McKee] used the legal system as their personal arsenal to make people miserable."
References to McElroy (whose name was Alison Reed at that time) began appearing in Kimberly's case filings. McElroy says she got a "hateful" phone call from McKee, threatening to "make [her] life miserable" by feeding damaging information to the lawyers of McElroy's soon-to-be ex-husband during McElroy's divorce case.
By the time Kevin moved into a townhome in Olathe on October 1, 2007, the volley of accusations between the Irelands had turned into an all-out paper blizzard.
In July of that year, Kimberly had filed criminal charges against Kevin for having the payment for a $1,589 American Express bill deducted from the pair's joint checking account. (Kevin, who had assumed responsibility for paying the couple's American Express bill, said the sum was for expenses Kimberly had charged while she was with McKee during the Disneyland trip.) As a result, Kevin was arrested at his office, in front of his co-workers. Kevin repaid the funds as part of a diversionary sentencing agreement with the Johnson County Prosecutor's Office.
Kevin, meanwhile, accused Kimberly of abuse after learning of a physical confrontation between Kimberly and their teenage daughter. He petitioned the court for full custody of the Ireland children. She responded by filing a motion claiming that Kevin was turning their daughter against her.
Smith, Kevin's first attorney, dropped out of the case. (He would not explain his decision to The Pitch.) Smith referred the matter to Edward Byrne, a tenacious lawyer whose petitions on Kevin's behalf indicate an appetite for high-conflict litigation.
Byrne set upon the case like a predator stalking wounded prey. After McKee and Kimberly filed documents protesting Byrne's entry in the case, he mailed them a letter dated October 24, 2007: "Your and your partner's continued intransigence with respect to this non-issue is juvenile, petulant and demonstrates a woeful ignorance of the most elementary legal principles," Byrne warned. He added: "Govern yourselves accordingly."
At this messy point, Judge Allen Slater, of Johnson County District Court, scheduled Kevin and Kimberly for a mediation session. They met with their mediator, District Court Judge Kevin P. Moriarty, on September 26, 2007.
The outcome was far from peaceful.
In mediations, Judge Moriarty doesn't wear a robe. He prefers everyday language to legalese, and he prides himself on his ability to bring warring parties into agreement. He thought the Irelands' mediation went well, which is why he was surprised to receive notice that Kimberly had filed a complaint against him with the Kansas Commission on Judicial Qualifications. (On behalf of the Kansas Supreme Court, the commission investigates judges for allegations of wrongdoing.)
According to Kimberly's complaint dated October 3, 2007, Judge Moriarty "yelled that I was 'wasting his fucking time'" and "continually used and directed the word 'fuck' to me." She claimed that the judge had discussed her panties and her sex life during the mediation session. Then she dropped a bomb: "The majority of the time we were in the courtroom, it appeared as if Judge Moriarty was masturbating under the bench."
Moriarty denied Kimberly's allegations in a seven-page letter to the commission dated October 25, 2007. There was a shred of truth in the "panties" allegation, though Moriarty denied using the word. His references to underwear had been hypothetical, he explained. While discussing the division of property, Moriarty had asked whether Kevin would be allowed to retrieve his bicycles from the Ireland home. McKee and Kimberly refused, arguing that Kevin had used marital assets to buy the bikes, which were custom-built and expensive. "I tried to show them why their refusal to return the property to him was silly," Moriarty wrote. "I gave her the example of underwear. I said they each have purchased underwear with marital money and that neither one ever used the other's underwear. Should he be able to get her underwear because it was purchased with the marital proceeds?"
The commission found no basis for Kimberly's allegations, according to a letter dated November 15, 2007, from its chairman, Judge Robert Fleming. Instead, Fleming filed a complaint against Kimberly with the Disciplinary Administrator's Office for leveling false accusations against a judge.
Kimberly didn't let up. Two years after her initial complaint, she filed a federal lawsuit against Moriarty and the Johnson County, Kansas, Board of Commissioners, in which she repeated the masturbation allegations and added new ones. She cited a report, written by one of the disciplinary investigators, in which a witness reportedly "did see" Moriarty masturbating. The word not, implied contextually in the report's content, had obviously been omitted by mistake. Kimberly nonetheless used the typo as evidence that she'd been right all along.
Opening a second front in her legal war wasn't the smartest move, but Kimberly soldiered on.
A turning point came on October 31, 2007. Kevin had permission to take his son trick-or-treating in Kimberly's Lenexa neighborhood. As Kevin and his son walked back toward the home that the Irelands formerly shared, Kevin noticed McKee's car parked in the driveway. In court documents, Byrne said McKee and Kimberly jumped out of the vehicle. McKee rushed Kevin, stood nose to nose with him, and yelled, "You wanna fight?"
After this, Byrne requested that the court disqualify McKee as Kimberly's counsel. Byrne pointed out that he may need to depose McKee as a witness, and he told the court that McKee's professional and personal conflicts of interest were delaying the case's progress.
Judge Slater agreed and disqualified McKee.
Byrne still needed to determine Kimberly's true annual income. Slater had ordered Kimberly to furnish the firm's financial information, but when she ignored his orders, he granted her more time. The "delay for the sheer sake of delay," as Byrne wrote in a letter to Slater, was benefiting Kimberly, who continued to receive $2,200 a month from Kevin in spousal and child support, a sum that would likely be reduced once the case was settled or tried. In late December 2007, Byrne asked Slater to recuse himself from the case. The judge obliged.
Judge Thomas Foster of Johnson County District Court took over. He was much stricter in regard to the discovery issue. In a January 23, 2008, telephone conference with Kimberly, Byrne and Kevin, Foster told Kimberly that he'd make it one of her "life's priorities" to supply Byrne with the documentation.
"You get access [to McKee & Ireland LLC's financial records] or else," Foster told her. "And the 'or else' right now is either a financial penalty or have you sit in the jail."
Instead, Kimberly continued to stall. Her filings became increasingly desperate. Between January and February 2008, she filed stacks of motions, including requests for Byrne to be disqualified as Kevin's attorney. After Foster denied all of these motions, she moved for a change of judge. Again, denied.
At a May 27, 2008, hearing, Kimberly still hadn't turned over the financial information to Byrne, so Foster ordered that Kimberly be fined $50 for each day she failed to comply. Had she been required to pay, Kimberly would have racked up nearly $5,000 in fines, but Foster ultimately dropped his order for sanctions. In court transcripts, Kevin says his counsel never received the requested documentation from McKee & Ireland LLC.
A frustrated Kimberly sought out a fresh audience. On June 12, 2008, Kimberly filed a 100-page lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Miami County (where Byrne lives), naming Byrne; Kevin; Kevin's father, Jim; and McElroy as defendants. Kimberly's kitchen-sink list of accusations included invasion of privacy, malicious prosecution, malicious defense, defamation, infliction of emotional distress, blackmail and extortion, tortuous interference, civil conspiracy and abuse of process.
She asked to be compensated for "lost income, medical expenses, lost opportunities, lost business, loss of reputation and professional good will, loss of productive use of time, humiliation, mental distress, career disruption, substantial loss in salary, prestige, and other fringe benefits, as well as inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of family and business relationships, emotional pain, suffering and mental anguish, all in an amount which cannot be ascertained precisely at this time."
Judge Steven Montgomery of Miami County District Court dismissed the Miami County suit "with prejudice," meaning it could not be refiled.
By August 2008, the Irelands' litigation had taken a visible toll. Kevin was seeing a therapist in the wake of his attempted suicide. Kimberly, who was only 34, had a pacemaker installed a few months previously. She blamed her heart problems on stress.
In a settlement hearing in front of Foster, Kimberly was accompanied by her new attorney, Karen Divita. Kevin appeared without Byrne, representing himself.
The Irelands appeared to be approaching a settlement. Then Divita brought up the Halloween incident. Her client was still seeking a protection-from-abuse order (PFA), Divita said.
Kevin became visibly upset. "A month and a half ago, I was approached by the plaintiff about reconciling, and she had agreed to me that she was going to drop the PFA case," he told the judge.
"Let's remain calm," Foster cut in.
Under oath, Kimberly described the Halloween confrontation and said Kevin had hurled their children's backpacks at her. She caught them easily, she admitted.
Foster decided that Kevin's intent hadn't been to harm her, and he did not grant protective orders. Still, the spirit of tentative forgiveness was shattered.
"[She] just screwed me," Kevin said. Apologizing to Foster, Kevin continued, "She's lied. She's going to continue to lie, and I can't deal with this anymore. ... I fired my attorney because she asked me to, so we could settle this, and now she comes back saying she's doing this to me.... I will take what you order, but I will not settle."
The Ireland matter should have ended with the divorce trial that started on September 18, 2008.
In his decision, Foster determined that Kimberly was capable of earning $50,000 a year and reduced accordingly the amount of child and spousal support that Kevin would continue to pay Kimberly. Foster awarded Kimberly the $15,000 equity in the house, saying it was offset by marital debts that she had already paid or was ordered to pay, and he awarded each their own car. They were responsible for paying their own legal fees.
"The court can't lay clear fault on one or the other that they ended up in this high-conflict situation and couldn't get out of it," Foster said. "The only pattern I can really see is that it appears that when one motion or objection was filed, it seemed to cause the other side to file a motion or objection, and not really in response, but more in retaliation."
Foster granted the divorce, but Kimberly wasn't done fighting. The judge had to schedule three additional hearings because Kimberly objected to the wording in the journal entry on the divorce order and refused to sign it. By the end of May 2009, the number of court filings in the Ireland matter had climbed to 242.
McKee reappeared at the hearings that followed the divorce ruling. Foster registered dismay at McKee and Kimberly's unwillingness to put the litigation to rest.
"It's been a vicious cycle since the petition was filed a couple of years ago," Foster told them. "And all you folks have to do is just decide to stop."
Kimberly told Foster, "I prefer that the Court of Appeals deal with this."
Foster replied, "Why appeal? What are you appealing? Is the purpose of your appeal to — to change the property division, or the child-support order, or the custody order, or is it to argue that ... disqualification of Mr. McKee is wrong ... or procedural things were wrong?"
Kimberly answered, "That issue isn't on the docket today, and I don't have to answer that question of what my appeal is for. I filed my documents."
The Kansas Court of Appeals reviewed those documents, along with Kevin's response brief filed by Michael Lucansky, Kevin's current attorney.
Last December, Kimberly dismissed her federal court action against Moriarty and apologized to his family and other court personnel. Kimberly's perceptions were impaired by stress brought on "in the midst of her highly contentious divorce action," according to a press release issued by Kimberly's new attorney, James C. Morrow. "The divorce action, still pending after two years, has caused Ms. Ireland to suffer heart ailments and extreme anxiety," the press release reads. "She has now determined that her claims were untrue."
Reached by phone, Morrow asked that questions for Kimberly Ireland be submitted in writing. He did not reply to e-mailed questions. Kevin Ireland, reached by e-mail, would not comment for this story.
The disciplinary administrator of the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys, Stanton Hazlett, determined last October that Kimberly violated the Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct by making false accusations against a judge. Kimberly voluntarily relinquished her Kansas law license on March 1 of this year, pending a formal disciplinary hearing in Topeka, scheduled for September 9. A panel of three attorneys, appointed by Hazlett, will make its recommendation to the Kansas Supreme Court after the hearing. It may recommend disbarment.
On May 14, the Kansas Court of Appeals affirmed the Johnson County Circuit Court's original ruling in the Ireland divorce matter. The Irelands, at last, are free of each other.