Gov. Jim Gibbons, Dawn Gibbons head to divorce court
Associated Press Writer
In a normal year, Gov. Jim Gibbons would have time to spend the final week of 2009 plotting out his re-election run, looking to boost his dismal approval numbers and dealing with a gigantic budget deficit.
Gibbons will instead be in a Reno courtroom for a divorce trial opposite first lady Dawn Gibbons – the woman he evicted from the Governor’s Mansion.
The trial will have no shortage of sizzle as it divides the spoils of a failed 23-year marriage and resurrects some of the scandals that have hounded Gibbons, including his alleged affairs with a Playboy model and a doctor’s wife.
Some political observers say the proceedings will only cause more damage to a re-election bid that already is being condemned by some as a lost cause.
“This is not the publicity anybody wants,” said Eric Herzik, political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. “Nobody looks good coming out of a bitter, public divorce.”
Even in Nevada, where divorce is etched in the state’s history, “he’s going to be hurt by it,” said Fred Lokken, another political scientist at Truckee Meadows Community College.
The public trial, set to begin Monday and run through New Year’s Eve day, is expected to be featured on the television show, “Inside Edition.” If the first-term Republican governor is worried about the publicity, he’s not showing it.
“I hope to have something to celebrate other than just the end of the year,” Gibbons told reporters last week when asked of his New Year’s plans.
In court documents, Gibbons’ lawyers charged that part of the first lady’s goal was to “so publicly degrade her husband” that he would be rejected by voters. “She knows that if she can drag this case (and her headlines) into the next election cycle she will more greatly damage his career,” they wrote.
Dawn Gibbons’ lawyers countered that her husband used her “youthful years, skills and charisma” to foster his political ambitions and win the governorship, then subjected her to humiliation, financial insecurity and emotional distress.
A recent poll conducted for the Las Vegas Review-Journal said Gibbons’ approval rating rose to 19 percent in December, up from 14 percent in October and lowly single-digits last summer.
With the Nevada primary set for June 8, Lokken said Gibbons “doesn’t have a long time to recover” from any political wounds inflicted in what has been a contentious and very public divorce.
Robert Olmer, Gibbons’ campaign adviser, disagreed.
“I’m really not concerned because this has been going on for literally well over a year and I think the public is pretty much over this,” Olmer said.
David Damore, a political scientist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said the nitty-gritty of the divorce may cause some voters to question the governor’s character, but how he deals with a $72 million fiscal year budget deficit and a possible special legislative session will have far more political consequences.
Unless a settlement is reached beforehand, the intimate details and sum total of the couple’s marriage will be refereed and divvied up by Washoe District Family Court Judge Frances Doherty.
Neither the governor’s lawyer, Gary Silverman, nor the first lady’s, Cal Dunlap, would comment on the case or the likelihood of a settlement.
The governor, who turned 65 this month, filed for divorce in May 2008 while his wife was out of town. He cited incompatibility, and in one court document compared her to an “enraged ferret.”
Dawn Gibbons has accused her husband of having affairs with two married Reno women, including a former Playboy model – allegations he and the women have denied and who have described their relationships as “good friends.”
But one relationship delivered the governor a political black eye 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 estranged wife of a Reno doctor and sent his lawyers to court to prevent them from being made public.
Lawyers for the governor estimate the couple’s “marital estate” in the range of $900,000 to $1.3 million.
Dawn Gibbons, 55, has been living in a cottage on the grounds of the Governor’s Mansion during the 19-month legal wrangling, and attempts to reach a settlement have so far failed. She was awarded $2,137 a month in temporary support during the separation.
Sticking points, according to court documents, are the couple’s Reno home and 40 acres they own in Elko County’s scenic Lamoille. Dawn Gibbons wants both properties sold and the proceeds divided. The governor wants to keep the Elko County land and let his soon-to-be-ex have the Reno home. It’s listed for about $1 million.
Other contentious details – like the governor’s legal fees to defend a lawsuit brought by Chrissy Mazzeo, a Las Vegas cocktail waitress who accuses him of assaulting her outside a restaurant while he was a gubernatorial candidate in 2006 – would resurrect less-than-flattering incidents.
Gibbons, who denies Mazzeo’s allegations, has so far amassed about $83,000 in attorneys fees and costs, according to divorce documents. The first lady wants those costs to be separated from the couple’s community property, and paid by the governor.
Dawn Gibbons, herself a former Nevada assemblywoman and wedding chapel owner, claims she was an “asset” to Gibbons’ long political career and should be compensated. In documents, she valued her job skills at about $100,000, if she could find such a job in the sour economy, and accused the governor of sabotaging her employment endeavors.
Gibbons estimates his pretax monthly income at $16,700, including his governor’s salary and pensions from the military and five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.