Las Vegas Sun

September 21, 2019

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How even is the Gibbonses’ split?

Guns, art, rural land, Model T’s. Gibbonses agree on a divorce, and each has something to show for it.

Gibbons settlement


Jim Gibbons, then a congressman, and his wife, Dawn, arrive for a rally in 2006 at his campaign headquarters in Las Vegas.

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Nevada First Lady Dawn Gibbons confers with her attorney, Cal Dunlap, before a court hearing in Reno on Monday, Dec. 28, 2009, on the settlement of her divorce from Gov. Jim Gibbons. The divorce trial was due to start Monday morning just as the settlement was made.

The Nevada marital nightmare ended Monday — 22 months after Gov. Jim Gibbons announced his intention to divorce first lady Dawn Gibbons — with them figuratively shaking hands and, among other things, divvying up a pair of Model T’s.

Appearing in Washoe County Family Court, lawyers on each side of Gibbons vs. Gibbons said their eleventh-hour pretrial negotiations — which went until 3 a.m. Monday before reconvening in Judge Frances Doherty’s chambers — had paid off.

The melodrama leading to Monday’s settlement had been a long, rough ride for the governor. His popularity plunged as the economy tanked (political experts disagree how much the personal travails played into it), and he now faces an uphill battle to get past the June Republican primary, never mind winning the general election in November, for the re-election he covets.

It’s common to say there are no winners in a divorce. Let’s see.

Timing of the settlement

• Winner: Jim Gibbons, because, even though it came at the last minute and he probably could have settled it months ago, it still prevented the four-day trial from starting. Gibbons needs everything to go his way for any hope of beating former federal judge Brian Sandoval and former North Las Vegas Mayor Mike Montandon in the Republican primary. Getting this behind him is a major step in that direction.

Robert Uithoven, Gibbons’ former campaign manager who is no longer affiliated with the campaign, said, “You can’t completely rule him out. He’s still governor for another year.” With the divorce behind him, Gov. Gibbons can focus on the state’s budget and raising money.

“No matter what he says, that it has not been a distraction, of course it has been a distraction,” Uithoven said. “Having that out of the way might not help his poll numbers, but he has the ability now to focus 100 percent of his time on governing and campaigning if he chooses to file.”

Image control

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Gov. Jim Gibbons gets a smile on his face just before answering whether he thought the settlement in his divorce case was equitable during a court hearing in Reno on Monday Dec. 28, 2009, regarding his divorce from Dawn Gibbons. After the smile he told the judge he did think it was fair.

During the trial, Dawn Gibbons was portrayed as the unknowing victim of a philandering husband, thanks in part to some explosive court filings by her pugnacious attorney Cal Dunlap. He accused the governor of carrying on two affairs with Reno women. Gibbons, meanwhile, gave direction to his confidants not to talk badly about Dawn Gibbons publicly.

“I think the governor’s high-road position was the best position to take,” Gibbons’ campaign manager Robert Olmer said. “They have an adult child together. The governor has been very respectful of Dawn.”

But then, Gibbons’ attorney did compare her to an “enraged ferret.”

• Winner: Dawn Gibbons, not because she was reported to be wearing a fashionable ferret pin after the biting comparison but because it’s a political world, and impressions are hard to break, particularly when stoked by photos of Gibbons embracing a former Playboy model outside the Reno Rodeo and the revelation that he exchanged 860 text messages with a Reno woman.

Getting the date straight

In a perfunctory phase of Monday’s hearing, Gibbons was asked by his attorney when he married Dawn. He replied July — awkward pause — 21, 1986.

A few moments later, Dawn Gibbons’ attorney Cal Dunlap rose to correct the record. “I believe he meant June 21, 1986.”


• Winner: Women’s stereotypes of men failing to remember anniversaries.

A Steve Wynn-type win

After Jim Gibbons’ lawyer Gary Silverman laid out how the couple were divvying up the possessions accumulated during 23 years together, Doherty asked how the guns would be split.

Dunlap rose. “He would get his guns, she would get the art.”

• Winner: Dawn Gibbons. Everyone’s got guns in Nevada. Not everyone has art.

Show me the money

Out of the governor’s $16,700 pretax monthly income, Dawn Gibbons will get 25 percent, or about $4,000 of his state salary, for the next five years and $1,454 from his various pensions.

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The Gibbonses own 40 acres in rural Nevada near Elko.

• Winner: Dawn Gibbons. She probably won’t need to punch a clock for a few years. Her soon-to-be ex, however, will be out of his current job by 2011 if poll numbers play out in next year’s elections. Gibbons will pay her a lump sum of $275,000, roughly half the value of land the couple own in scenic Lamoille, near Elko.

On the bright side for the governor, Dawn Gibbons will move out of the apartment next to the Governor’s Mansion, and they will split the proceeds from the sale of their Reno home.

Trials and tribulations

The courtroom had empty seats Monday morning. Several women exchanged hugs and whispered encouragement to Dawn Gibbons after the settlement was announced.

• Winner: Nevadans. Maybe most of us don’t care about the dissolution of the 23-year marriage of the state’s highest elected official and his high-profile wife, who was an assemblywoman and ran for congress in 2006.

Gibbons said leaving the courtroom that he was “happy to have it over and finished.” Dawn Gibbons said “I was honored to be first lady for three years. I did not want to dishonor the state, and I think settling avoids that.”

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