No trial, but Nev gov's divorce damage may be done

AP News
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Posted: Dec 29, 2009 10:51 AM

Gov. Jim Gibbons smiled when the judge presiding over what promised to be a salacious and sensational four-day divorce trial asked if Gibbons' settlement with the first lady was fair and equitable.

"Yes," the first-term Republican finally managed to utter, as if biting his tongue.

It may be fair, but the divorce decree ending his 23-year marriage to Dawn Gibbons _ the first for a sitting governor in Nevada _ is unlikely to undo all the political damage that motivated the former congressman to pay more alimony than he wanted and sell the ranch where he hoped to retire.

The deal reached Monday, however, does avoid a messy public trial filled with allegations of infidelity, name-calling and mean-spirited attacks.

"I'm not going to talk about the divorce," Gibbons, 65, told The Associated Press after his court hearing Monday in the self-proclaimed "Divorce Capital of the World."

"Put it down as no comment," he said.

Erik Herzik, political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, said the 11th hour settlement still may have come too late.

"It is a positive just by avoiding a negative," Herzik said. "Whether he rebounds from this is an open question. A great deal of damage has already been done and has been reported on for over a year."

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 the office as a Democrat.

"He can now focus his energies on re-election, but the memory and opinions about his personal situation aren't going to immediately go away," Herzik said. "Nevada likely is more forgiving than some states like Utah. But it still is not a case of no fault, no repercussion."

Dawn Gibbons said after the hearing that she would keep her married name but relinquish her responsibilities as first lady in the coming weeks.

"I've been honored to be first lady for three years," said the 55-year-old former state legislator, an unsuccessful candidate for her husband's former congressional seat who owned a pair of Reno wedding chapels. "I did not want to do anything that would dishonor my state. The agreement reflects that."

The settlement calls for the governor 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 later, especially if the governor isn't re-elected next fall.

The couple agreed to sell their Reno home and their 40 acres in scenic Lamoille in Elko County, with the proceeds to be divided equally, lawyers said. Each property has a net value of about $575,000.

Gibbons had wanted to give his wife their Reno home and keep the Elko property.

Under the agreement, the governor 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.

Lawyers and the first couple negotiated through the night until 3 a.m. Monday before meeting with a judge and announcing they had reached an agreement after 18 months of legal wrangling.

"This matter is settled," Gary Silverman, the governor's lawyer, told Washoe District Family Court Judge Frances Doherty in the courthouse along the Truckee River, where legend says divorced couples tossed their wedding bands starting in the 1930s when Nevada first relaxed the waiting period for divorces.

Doherty approved the pact and said a decree would be issued within 60 days.

The governor filed for divorce in May 2008. He cited incompatibility with his wife and in one court document compared her to an "enraged ferret."

Dawn Gibbons accused her husband of having affairs with a Playboy model and the estranged wife of a Reno doctor _ 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.

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.

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Associated Press writer Sandra Chereb in Carson City contributed to this report.