Judge: Bill Gross harassed neighbor with ‘Gilligans’ song

Bill Gross and his partner claimed it was only their love of “Gilligan’s Island” that made them play the show’s theme song over and over again, but an Orange County judge got it once again on Wednesday and decided to blaring the song over and over again. constituted a form of harassment. .

At the conclusion of a high-profile lawsuit stemming from complaints about an ornate lawn sculpture, Supreme Court Justice Kimberly Knill ordered the billionaire bond investor and his partner, Amy Schwartz, not to violate the noise regulations of Laguna Beach Municipal Code or play. music on their outdoor speakers when they are not in the garden or pool area of ​​their seaside resort.

“People rightly have an expectation that their home is their oasis and safe place,” said Knill, quoting several instances of music being played so loud that it could be heard inside neighbor Mark Towfiq’s home despite concrete construction. and half-inch-thick windows with two panes.

She also ruled that Gross, the retired co-founder of Pimco, had not proved that Towfiq had invaded his privacy – denied Gross’s competing request for a civil harassment order.

Even in Southern California, where feuds between rich and famous neighbors are some of the most important, the battle that broke out between the wealthy tech entrepreneur and the even richer bond investor attracted. It highlighted the kind of legal firepower that is more typical of high-stakes disputes than a dispute between neighbors, where each party employs a battery of attorneys, including quick-footed trials that interrogated 11 witnesses.

The decision followed a lawsuit for dueling civil harassment orders that began Nov. 9 and ended last week after nine days of testimony and closing arguments, including a break when Gross, 76, and Schwartz, 51, were potentially exposed to coronavirus.

One side claimed harassment by loud music after complaining about nets being set up to protect the sculpture; the other side claimed an invasion of privacy by a neighbor they accused of being a looking Tom.

Chase Scolnick, the lawyer for Towfiq and his wife, said he was pleased with the decision. “No amount or PR spin can hide the truth here. Our customers have lived a nightmare, ”he said.

Jill Basinger, the attorney for Gross and Schwartz, said she was disappointed with the judge’s decision, but maintained that it was “not a form of distrust from either Bill Gross or Amy Schwartz” that has worked with the Laguna Beach planning department to ensure permits for the sculpture.

“This order simply leads them to continue doing what they are already doing: follow the law,” she said in her email statement.

Gross also issued a statement saying that although he was “disappointed with the outcome”, he would abide by the terms of the decision, although he complained that “the case should never have reached this point” – saying he had offered to to settle. He said he would “keep dancing the night away, ‘Gilligan’s Island’ forever.”

Views from Mark Towfiq's pool deck include the Dale Chilhuly glass mesh glass sculpture.

Views from Mark Towfiq’s pool deck include the Dale Chilhuly glass mesh glass sculpture.

(Mark Towfiq)

The blue lawn sculpture of blown glass by artist Dale Chihuly, whose work adorns the Bellagio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, was installed by Gross and Schwartz last year near the property line they share with Towfiq and his wife on a stretch of the South Coast Highway.

Towfiq testified that although the 22-meter-long installation with swimming line, fish balls and cobalt-colored reeds “was not necessarily our style”, he and his wife, Carol Nakahara, were not bothered by it. However, he said they were far less happy when their neighbors erected a 12-foot-tall net structure in April to protect the sculpture during trimming and stormy weather – yet it rarely came down. Nakahara, at the stand, called it “legitimate as a major football net.”

Towfiq said he repeatedly tried to resolve the issue by texting Schwartz, contacting the couple’s property manager and even sending a letter. He said he ultimately felt “helpless” and decided to complain to the city, which issued Gross a notice of violation on July 28 stating that the sculpture and mesh structure lacked permits. The next weekend, Towfiq testified, noise harassment began. “I immediately connected the two,” he said.

Part of the trial was spent on the noise complaints, including the allegation that Gross and Schwartz played the theme song for “Gilligan’s Island” on a loop all the time. Towfiq testified that it was “almost like PTSD.”

In support of the allegations, Towfiq’s lawyer called the stand Laguna Beach police officers, who testified that they heard loud music coming from the property while responding to noise complaints. One of the officers and an enforcement officer for the city codes also testified that Gross and Schwartz said they would lower the music if Towfiq dropped his complaint about the sculpture.

Towfiq’s lawyers highlighted a text from Gross that responded to their client’s request to reject the music: “Peace on all fronts or well just have night concerts big boy.” Gross testified that the text referred to Towfiq’s imagery, behavior that the bond investor described as “looking.” Knill stated that the explanation was not “plausible”.

Gross’s legal team tried to punch holes in the allegations of noise harassment, urging an audio expert to question the accuracy of Towfiq’s iPhone footage, as volume controls can be manipulated. “Yes. That’s true. Mr Gross and Mrs Schwartz play music. They play music at night. They like music,” Basinger argued.

She said the only recording evidence presented during the trial of the theme song “Gilligan’s Island” and loud music played after 6 p.m. 21, took place over the weekend after the city’s announcement was received. She claimed it was only because the couple had recently learned that the TV show was special to them. Schwartz testified that the couple discovered that the opening credits for “Gilligan’s Island” included a scene shot in Newport Beach that was identical to a view from another home they have there.

In his decision, however, Knill cited repeated instances of loud music being played that she found harassing, even when played during the day. She discounted the expert’s testimony about the accuracy of the iPhone and noted the recordings captured music that could be heard on the Towfiq property.

In an attempt to prove that Towfiq had an obsession with Gross and Schwartz, Basinger cited questions that Towfiq had asked the neighbor who sold the home and a real estate agent about the couple before they moved in. But when she asked Towfiq about these inquiries, she got a response repeated in news reports as far away as the UK. Towfiq testified that he was warned by the neighbor that “I did not want an angry billionaire with a short fuse living next to me.” Towfiq said he had been aware of the media coverage of the billionaire’s ugly divorce and an unpleasant departure from Pimco.

Before Gross took a stand, he published an open letter calling for an end to the trial and all other trials between the two sides, saying they should both donate their expected fees to the area’s COVID-19 relief organizations. “In the midst of this horrific global tragedy, part of the media is being transmitted by … a man playing the theme song to a 1960s sitcom and another recording him,” the letter says.

Towfiq’s chief lawyer, Jennifer Keller, dismissed it, arguing that Gross “lost the trial badly” and wanted to “stem the tide of negative pressure.” She added that if Gross really wanted to end it, he would have to pay Towfiq’s legal fees and apologize for the “terrible lies” that were spread about him. But when the trial resumed, the opposite side doubled, and Gross testified that he and Schwartz had called their neighbor “Peeping Mark.”

Schwartz, a former professional tennis player, testified that she witnessed Towfiq invading her privacy several times by recording her while she was swimming. “I’m scared. I feel offended. I’m scared. I have a bikini or less,” she said.

No photographic evidence was presented in support of her claim, and Knill found that the footage was taken to document the noise violations. However, her decision did not technically apply to Schwartz’s allegations, as she never filed her own request for a civil harassment order.

Still, the judge said she found Schwartz’s behavior on testimony regarding the noise conflict to be “evasive and defensive” and gave “little or no weight to her testimony.”

However, she admonished Towfiq for an incident that took place on August 15 when he registered Gross near their property line while his neighbor was dressed in minimal clothing. She said the video may have constituted a violation of privacy, but was not sufficient to support a civilian harassment order.

Following Knill’s decision, Towfiq’s legal team sought to have the judge order Gross to pay their client’s attorney’s fees, but the judge asked for a separate proposal for this request.

Although his attempt to settle the case failed, Gross announced on Dec. 10 that he had donated $ 500,000 to Orange County relief organizations. A spokesman said the figure was similar to what the billionaire had spent on the dispute, including separate lawsuits that the two parties have filed and which have not yet been heard.