Settlement reached in Nevada governor's divorce

Monday, December 28, 2009 - 3:06pm

RENO, Nev. - Gov. Jim Gibbons and first lady Dawn Gibbons reached a settlement in their divorce Monday and avoided a messy public trial that could have had damaging repercussions for the first-term Republican's struggling re-election bid.

Lawyers and the first couple negotiated through the night until 3 a.m. Monday then met with a judge in a Reno courtroom before announcing they had agreed on what will become the first divorce decree ever issued for a sitting Nevada governor.

"This matter is settled," Gary Silverman, the governor's lawyer, told Washoe District Family Court Judge Frances Doherty.

At a hearing in the self-proclaimed "Divorce Capital of the World," Doherty approved the pact and said a decree would be issued within 60 days.

"The court finds the grounds for dissolution exists based on incompatibility," the judge said. She thanked both sides' lawyers for maintaining the "dignity of the court and respect for each other."

Dawn Gibbons had accused her husband of having affairs with two married women - allegations he denied. At least one of the women was on the first lady's potential witness list had they gone forward with the trial that was expected to run through Thursday.

Outside the courtroom, Dawn Gibbons told reporters, "I wish Jim the very best.

"I've been honored to be first lady for three years," she said. "I did not want to do anything that would dishonor my state. The agreement reflects that."

She said she would keep the Gibbons name but relinquish her responsibilities as first lady in the coming weeks.

The governor declined to comment.

"I'm not going to talk about the divorce. Put it down as no comment," he told The Associated Press. During the hearing, he joked with a longtime newspaper photographer, saying, "Get my best side, would you?"

The governor's settlement calls for him to pay monthly alimony totaling 25 percent of his gross income for the next five years. That will amount to about $4,000 a month next year, but Dawn Gibbons' lawyer Cal Dunlap said there's no way to know what the amount will be in the following years, especially if the former Republican congressman fails to win re-election next fall.

A recent poll conducted for the Las Vegas Review-Journal said Gibbons' approval rating rose to 19 percent in December after falling into single-digits last summer.

He already faces at least two challengers in a GOP primary set for June 8 - former U.S. District Judge Brian Sandoval and former North Las Vegas Mayor Mike Montandon. Rory Reid, the son of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, is running for governor as a Democrat.

The Gibbonses agreed to split their Reno home and 40 acres in scenic Lamoille in Elko County, lawyers said. Each has a net value of about $575,000.

The property was a contentious issue in the negotiations, according to court documents. The governor had wanted to give his wife their Reno home and keep the Elko property.

Under the agreement, he will get to keep a 1914 Model T car. The first lady will get a 1915 Model T. He will get to keep his guns, and she will get the art.

Silverman said other details, like divvying up furniture, will be discussed at another settlement conference Monday afternoon.

The 65-year-old governor filed for divorce in May 2008. He cited incompatibility with his wife of 23 years, and in one court document compared her to an "enraged ferret."

Dawn Gibbons, 55, accused her husband of having affairs with a Playboy model and the estranged wife of a Reno doctor. She also accused him of using her to foster his political ambitions.

The women denied being romantically involved with the governor and described their relationships as "good friends," but one relationship caused Gibbons political embarrassment after it was revealed he used his state-issued cell phone to send more than 860 personal text messages over several weeks in 2007. When word of the texting emerged, Gibbons apologized and said he reimbursed the state $130.

He also denied the messages were "love notes" to the doctor's wife and sent his lawyers to court to prevent them from being made public.
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