Experts are split over whether Nevada first lady Dawn Gibbons has a legal right to remain in the Governor's Mansion after her husband of 22 years filed for divorce.
At the same time he filed for divorce on May 2, Republican Gov.
Jim Gibbons asked the court to evict his wife from the 23-room
official residence in Carson City, where she's been living since he
left to stay in the couple's Reno home several months ago.
Dawn Gibbons is fighting that petition, saying she wants to remain there to carry out her duties as first lady. She has said she would stay in the guest house and leave the main residence to the governor.
Lorne Malkiewich, director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau,
said state law is pretty much silent on who can live in the
Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto has said she
would not provide an opinion on who has a legal claim to the
executive residence unless it is officially requested of her.
But state Archivist Guy Rocha said the 1907 law authorizing construction of the mansion dictates that the residence is the "home of the state executive."
"It does not say family or anything else," Rocha told the Reno
Gazette-Journal. "There's nothing in there that anybody else has
any kind of vested right. It says executive. Period."
Tradition also stands on the side of the governor to decide who
lives there, Rocha said.
He cited as an example Gov. Tasker Oddie, who was elected as a
divorcee in 1911. He brought with him his mother and sisters to the
mansion to act as hostesses, Rocha said.
In 1934, Lt. Gov. Morley Griswold became acting governor when
Gov. Fred Balzar died. Because he already had a Carson City
residence, he allowed Balzar's widow to continue living in the
mansion until the next governor was elected, Rocha said.
"If you look at the history of the state, the executive has always made the decision," Rocha said. "These people are divorcing, and if Jim Gibbons doesn't want her to stay there, I don't see how she can argue she has some kind of vested right."
But Dawn Gibbons' lawyer, Cal Dunlap, said state law governing the mansion is not the issue. Rather, a divorcing couple's right to a joint residence is the purview of family law.
Under that law, both spouses have a right to 50 percent of anything of value enjoyed by the couple while the divorce is proceeding, including a residence.
"Until there is a divorce ... there is no doubt that the mansion is there for the governor and his family to reside in," Dunlap told the Gazette-Journal. "His unilateral decision to kick her out, or attempt to kick her out, does not change that respective status as a married couple."