It's a legal dispute that involves, among other things, 24 men's left shoes, insulin, a defibrillator, a black Labrador retriever, and more than $80,000 in western cowboy and Native American artifacts, relics, antiques and paintings.
The battle between Nancy Harney, a wealthy Illinois woman who owns Stoner Mill Farm in Bourbon County, and John Walden, the farm's former resident manager and a familiar figure in Central Kentucky Thoroughbred horse industry circles, has spanned more than two years, involved several lawyers and spilled into three different courts in two counties.
It's a property dispute with myriad legal twists and turns. What's clear is that things got so heated between the two that Harney fired Walden and wanted him to leave the "Tree House," a house on her farm, and she did not want him to return.
"In the past, Mr. Walden has threatened to burn down the Tree House if he could not live there. I am afraid for my life and for the health and safety of my employees if Mr. Walden is allowed back on the farm," Harney said in an affidavit. Walden says he has not made any threats.
"I'm a builder; I don't destroy things," he said. "I loved the farm; I loved everything about it."
Harney's attorney, Joe Childers of Lexington, summed up the situation like this:
"Nancy Harney is a compassionate person who put her trust in the wrong person to run her farm operations in Bourbon County," he said. "She learned that the hard way, and obviously is still paying the price. She's a generous person and certainly meant no one any harm in this whole endeavor."
Harney, 65, is a Chicago area native. She and three siblings inherited a fortune from their father, a manufacturing businessman, according to Childers. Harney has had ranches and farms, which have served as sanctuaries for rescued animals, in several states.
Walden, 69, said he's an Illinois native who grew up on Walmac Farm in Lexington, where his father was farm manager.
Harney and Walden met in 2002.
"She was looking for a decorator, and a real estate agent introduced her to Walden, who did a commendable job decorating the mill house at Stoner Mill Farm," Childers said. "He later convinced her he could manage the entire farm, even though he had no experience managing a farm."
Walden also was made manager of Harney's Happy Tails Animal Sanctuary, located at Stoner Mill, according to court documents.
Walden said he and Harney became close personal and professional friends.
The Tree House was built on Stoner Mill Farm between 2005 and 2007. Walden said he put some of his own money and work into it.
Walden said he had asked Harney why she was building such a big house.
"She said, 'Don't worry, I'm worth more than $70 million,'" he said.
After the Tree House was built, Harney moved western cowboy and Native American items to the Tree House from a ranch she owned in Arizona, Walden said. He said Harney was going to sell the Arizona ranch, and told him she wanted him to have the items. Walden says he accepted some of them as gifts and stored others for her at various places on Stoner Mill Farm.
"She intended to use the building (the Tree House) as a place for social functions to support her foundation, Happy Tails Animal Sanctuary. She also needed a suitable place to store several hundred valuable items," Childers said.
A legal battle
Harney fired Walden and ordered him off the farm in 2010 after a female employee of Stoner Mill sued the farm, saying she had been sexually harassed. Harney, in court documents, said the woman accused Walden of sexually harassing her. Walden, in an interview, denied the allegation, and said the woman who filed suit "never once" accused him personally of sexual harassment. The lawsuit was settled out of court, according to Walden and Childers.
Instead of leaving the farm after he was fired, Walden sued Harney in Bourbon Circuit Court, saying he and Harney had signed an agreement under which Walden would be allowed to live in the Tree House for the rest of his life, be paid an annual salary of $65,000 per year for life, and receive health insurance benefits for life, among other things. The case was moved to federal court in Lexington.
Harney, in court records, said she never signed such an agreement. Childers said there were no witnesses to the signatures and the document was not notarized. Plus, "Two handwriting experts were prepared to testify that most likely the signature did belong to Mrs. Harney," Childers said.
In a settlement agreement reached in March, Harney agreed to pay Walden $2,250 per month for the rest of his life and buy him a lifetime residence elsewhere with a value of up to $250,000. According to the settlement, Harney also agreed to pay for all taxes, insurance and major repairs on the home.
Harney bought Walden a house on Berea Road in Lexington. He moved in several weeks ago.
But Harney and Walden are still fighting — in Fayette and Bourbon circuit courts — over western cowboy and Native American artifacts, relics, antiques and paintings that had been placed in the Tree House, and Walden's access to the Tree House.
According to the March agreement, all guns and artifacts at the Tree House were to be divided pursuant to a previous inspection and inventory by the two sides in the dispute.
According to court documents, Harney at one time had more than $1.6 million in such items stored at the Tree House. She retrieved a large number of those items after the March settlement, Childers said. Harney says in court documents that more than $80,000 in items — including dozens of antique handguns and rifles, paintings, Native American woven rugs, and jewelry — belonging to her are missing or are involved in an ownership dispute with Walden. Harney, in court documents, said numerous items "held in bailment" by Walden while he lived at the Tree House are missing.
Walden said he hasn't taken anything that didn't belong to him. He said he purchased many items that Harney says are hers, and Harney gave him others as gifts. He said he has returned items he received as gifts from Harney.
Harney said Walden had said in a deposition that he sold two LeMat carbine guns for about $30,000 and kept the money.
"He also admitted that he sold a set of dueling pistols owned by me for $6,750, but claims he gave me the money, which is not true," she said in the affidavit.
Walden said some of the pieces aren't nearly as valuable as Harney says they are, and Harney's list of western cowboy and Native American items keeps changing.
Walden said among the items he purchased that Harney claims are hers is a large buffalo skull, which he said he bought for $50 to $75. He said he bought the two LeMat carbine guns that Harney says are hers from a Lexington firearms dealer. He said he bought a rug referred to in court documents as a "J" rug, which Harney says is hers.
"The J rug is mine. I bought it because it has the initial J on it," John Walden said.
'I don't destroy things'
Walden said his proof of ownership and receipts for items he purchased are in the Tree House, and he's being prevented from entering the property to get them. Even worse, he said, he's not been allowed back onto the farm to retrieve his insulin or Labrador retriever.
Harney, in the affidavit, said she told her security detail at Stoner Mill to stop Walden from gaining access to the Tree House in mid-June, after she closed on the Berea Road residence.
"I took this action to protect my valuable personal western and Indian artifacts that continued to be located in the Tree House from being stolen by Mr. Walden," she said.
Walden said that in making the move from the Tree House to his new home on Berea Road, he was allowed only limited access to the Tree House and was able to remove from it only personal items he could carry in his arms.
Childers said Walden was allowed back in the Tree House on two separate occasions to get his medicine, and that Harney has offered to take Walden's medications to him.
Childers said farm representatives took two of Walden's dogs to his new home. The Labrador retriever ran off, and Stoner Mill employees have been looking for it, Childers said.
Stoner Mill employees also delivered to Walden a box of his belongings. But he says the box did not include many personal items.
Walden said he's had to use plastic eating utensils and is without his ironing board. He said he went to Wal-Mart to buy bath towels to replace the ones from Saks Fifth Avenue he had at the Tree House.
The box did contain parts of his defibrillator and 24 right-foot shoes belonging to him. The left-foot matches weren't in the box, he said.
"It's their way of being obnoxious," he said. "I've got a pretty decent sense of humor. That's worn pretty thin on me," Walden said.
Jennifer Hewlett: (859) 231-3308.Twitter: @HLPublicSafety.