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'Jilted bride' case: Ex-fiance wants a new trial

Wayne Gibbs alleges fraud regarding engagement ring

POSTED: September 7, 2008 5:01 a.m.
A jilted bride should not have been awarded $150,000 by a Hall County jury because she defrauded a bankruptcy court by concealing the value of an engagement ring she now is trying to sell for $15,000, according to lawyers for the man who broke off the engagement.

RoseMary Shell’s lawyer, meanwhile, said the ring, which she described as "flawed," isn’t worth much and that it was uncertain who owned it when her client filed for bankruptcy.

Shell failed to tell a U.S. Bankruptcy Court about the existence of the ring, which defendant Wayne Gibbs gave her in a promise to marry in November 2006, according to a motion for a new trial filed in Hall County Superior Court by Gibbs’ attorneys. The motion also maintains that Shell had a legal obligation to get the bankruptcy court’s approval before going forward with the lawsuit against Gibbs.

Shell’s bankruptcy filing was presented in court as evidence that Shell made a financial sacrifice by quitting an $80,000-a-year job in Florida to move to Gainesville and be with Gibbs. Gibbs backed out of the proposed marriage a few days before the planned wedding date in early December 2006. Shell later filed for bankruptcy and ended up working a $31,000-a-year job.

In an unusual civil case, Shell sued Gibbs in July 2007, alleging breach of contract. A Hall County jury of six men and six women decided in July that Gibbs owed Shell after she quit her job and moved to Gainesville under the impression he would marry her. Her legal victory drew national media attention.

But according to Gibbs’ attorneys, Shell defrauded a federal bankruptcy court because she never informed it of the existence of her lawsuit against Gibbs or the ring, which she is now advertising for sale on the Internet at a price of $15,000. Gibbs is being represented by Hammond Law of Gainesville and Edward Hine Jr. of Rome.

"The verdict was contrary to the law, the evidence and justice as it was procured by fraud," the attorneys wrote in a motion for new trial submitted to Hall County Superior Court Judge Kathlene Gosselin. "The plaintiff obtained a discharge of her debts from the bankruptcy court and perpetrated a fraud on her creditors by failing to properly disclose the true value of the engagement ring and the existence of the cause of action against the defendant. The plaintiff then used the fraudulently obtained discharge and relied upon it in the evidence to obtain the verdict against the defendant, and the court should set aside the verdict as contrary to the law, the evidence and justice."

According to Gibbs’ motion, Shell had secured and unsecured debts of $198,000. In her bankruptcy petition, she listed her jewelry assets as being worth $500.

Shell has advertised the ring on the Internet with the description, "As seen on the ‘Today’ show," according to an exhibit attached to Gibbs’ motion. The listed asking price is $15,000.

There was no testimony during the trial as to how much Gibbs spent on the gold and diamond ring, which he bought at a local jewelry store. Gibbs did not ask to have the ring back after he broke off the engagement.

The motion also asks Gosselin to grant a new trial because, Gibbs’ attorneys maintain, the jury’s verdict was "excessive" in light of the evidence presented at the trial.

Reached Wednesday, Shell referred questions about Gibbs’ motion for new trial to her attorney, Lydia Sartain.

Sartain denied that Shell obtained a bankruptcy judgment fraudulently, noting that the suit against Gibbs wasn’t filed until months after the bankruptcy petition, and that the ownership of the engagement ring "wasn’t firmly established until the trial."

"I think the ownership was certainly questionable back in December (2006) when the bankruptcy was filed," Sartain said.

Sartain added that recent efforts by Shell to sell the ring have been fruitless.

"Several people have looked at the ring," Sartain said. "It has a lot of flaws and is probably not worth anything much. It’s really of poor quality."

Sartain said Gibbs’ lawyers were mixing rules and issues involving two distinctly separate courts.

"Even if there was some issue (in the bankruptcy filing), that would be something for the bankruptcy court to look into, not (the superior) court," Sartain said. "I don’t believe they’ve raised any issues that merit a new trial."

Gibbs could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Hine, one of his two attorneys, declined to comment beyond the contents of the motion.

Gosselin has set a November hearing date for the motion.



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