Divorce trial ordered for Gibbons, wife

RENO -- They met for 5 1/2 hours behind closed doors with a judge, but Gov. Jim Gibbons and his wife, Dawn, failed on Wednesday to reach a settlement on property division and support matters that would allow them to end their 23-year marriage.

Washoe County District Judge Frances Doherty ordered a divorce trial to start Dec. 28, but the couple still could reach a settlement before then.

Gibbons, up for re-election next year, filed last year for divorce from his wife, a former assemblywoman, citing "incompatibility." Settlement agreements released by each of their lawyers would indicate they are far from a resolution, but it's unknown how much progress, if any, was made in the court hearing. Neither Jim Gibbons nor Dawn Gibbons would comment Wednesday. Their respective lawyers also declined comment.

Dawn Gibbons wants to sell the couple's ranch-style home on 2 1/2 acres in southwest Reno and the 20 acres of rural land her husband bought in 2007 for $575,000. The vacant land is in Lamoille, 20 miles south of Elko.

She seeks to divide the proceeds from the sales and asks for "fair" permanent support from Gibbons. What that support would be is not specified in the settlement documents.

The governor offered her the Reno home, on which there is a $312,000 mortgage, while he keeps the Lamoille property. He also would give her $2,000 a month support until 2011.

Because of the terrible economy, Dawn Gibbons maintains that the Reno home cannot be sold now and that she is unable to find a suitable job. She asks that they remain married until the property can be sold and he agrees to reasonable support.

The asking price for their Reno home now is $1.1 million, down from the original $1.5 million. But only eight people have viewed the home, and no offers have been made, according to settlement documents.

Her lawyer, Cal Dunlap, also requests that Jim Gibbons, who soon turns 65, be required to set up a mechanism so that support will continue to Dawn Gibbons should he die. The first lady is 55, and Dunlap said the governor probably will die before her.

The first lady also wants the governor to pay all court costs, including the $138,000 she now owes her lawyer.

Jim Gibbons' lawyer, Gary Silverman, said in the settlement papers that the governor wants to keep the Lamoille property, where he would retire.

"This is the place of (the governor's) dreams and the sentimental value exceeds its price tenfold," Silverman said.

Silverman added that Dawn Gibbons has ignored Doherty's request that she get a job, a request made in the governor's settlement papers. The first lady has stated under oath that she could earn $100,000 a year, he said.

"Young, attractive and very experienced in the business world as a small business owner and in the political world as a lobbyist and assemblywoman, it is time for (Dawn Gibbons) to make her own way," Silverman said.

Dawn Gibbons is a former political consultant and once owned a flower shop and wedding chapel.

Instead of moving back into their Reno home, Silverman charged that Dawn Gibbons "desires to live in a garret at the governor's mansion" which has neither a stove nor a refrigerator.

She lives in an apartment above the Nevada Room, a public gathering place next to the mansion. Gibbons lives in the mansion.

In the first lady's settlement proposal, Dunlap said soon after being elected governor, Gibbons "began his clandestine plan to acquire his retirement nest (the Lamoille property) and to shed his wife."

Gibbons never disclosed to her that he had secured a loan to buy the property and that he plans to spend his time with "some of his many lady friends" there, Dunlap said.

Dawn Gibbons has accused her husband of having affairs with two married Reno women, allegations he denies.

Dunlap said Dawn Gibbons has been put in a position of having to "seek employment in the worst economy in the country" at a time when her husband has made "defamatory comments about her to many influential people."

Dunlap added the first lady has looked for jobs but has been told nothing is available in today's economy.

No governor in state history has divorced while in office. The couple has an adult son, and the governor has a son and a daughter from a previous marriage.

A recent poll commissioned by the Review-Journal last week found that 14 percent of those surveyed had a favorable view of the governor and that he would be trounced by Brian Sandoval in a Republican primary.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.