Bill Gross suspended sentence in harassment case

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An Orange County judge on Friday convicted billionaire Bill Gross and his wife of contempt of court for shouting again over music that disturbed their neighbors in Laguna Beach – ordering them to jail them for five days and then suspend immediately their punishment.

Citing the pandemic, which has disrupted the county’s prison system, Superior Court Judge Kimberly Knill said the retired bond king and his wife, former professional tennis player Amy Schwartz Gross, could carry out work of general interest instead of two days in jail, with the other three days suspended if both do not violate the prohibition order for one year.

The judge also banned the couple from playing music outdoors at their home at any time.

After a lawsuit last December in which Knill ruled the Grosses harassed their neighbors in the Tony Rockledge Beach neighborhood, the judge issued a three-year restraining order against the couple, who married in April. She found out that the couple had violated the restraining order one evening in July last year by disturbing the peace with loud outdoor music.

Making her latest ruling, Knill said she found the couple’s testimony about what happened that night to be directly challenged by the evidence presented in court.

“There was a colossal disconnect between the Grosses’ selfish testimony and their avowed desire to comply with court orders – and their actions to challenge them. What the court saw on the videos is nothing less than unadorned contempt, ”she said.

The couple’s attorney, Patty Glaser, told Knill she plans to appeal the decision, with the judge suspending the sentence for 30 days to give her time to do so.

Gross, 77, issued a written statement calling the sentence a “parody of justice and a black mark on the Orange County court system.”

Chase Scolnick, lawyer for neighbors Mark Towfiq and his wife, later said his clients were “satisfied with today’s outcome”.

“We hope that the court order will finally get Bill and Amy Gross to change their behavior so that our clients can live in peace, which they always wanted,” added Scolnick.

The move was the latest development in a feud that began in 2019, when Gross placed a million-dollar lawn sculpture by glass artist Dale Chihuly on his property and installed a netting to protect it.

The net on Dale Chihuly’s sculpture at the Gross property, seen from his neighbor’s house.

(Marc Towfiq)

Towfiq, his next door neighbor on an expanse of luxurious beachfront homes, complained that the 12-foot net was blocking his view of the ocean. After unsuccessful attempts to resolve the issue, Towfiq complained to the city, which issued a citation because the sculpture and the net did not have a permit.

Towfiq and his wife testified in a lawsuit last December that the Grosses retaliated by playing music on an outside system – including the theme song “Gilligan’s Island” on repeat – that penetrated the concrete walls of their home. house and a half inch thick, double glazed windows. He presented as evidence an iPhone recording of the music.

The Grosses responded by alleging that Towfiq was obsessed with the notorious Gross, co-founder of Newport Beach Bond House Pimco, as evidenced by his regular video recording, which Towfiq defended as necessary to document the harassment.

Knill sided with Towfiq and ruled that the music constituted harassment. She issued a three-year restraining order that required the Grosses not to violate the noise provisions of Laguna Beach’s municipal code and to play music on the outdoor system only when they themselves are outside. .

Over the summer, Towfiq filed court documents alleging that Gross violated the order on July 7. Towfiq said he and his wife were watching TV after 9 p.m. when they heard music from the billionaire’s property. Towfiq called Laguna Beach Police, who attended the scene but did not issue a summons; he asked the judge to fine the couple and sentence them to five days in prison.

Dale Chihuly's sculpture with safety net on the Gross property seen from his neighbor's house.

The Dale Chihuly sculpture, with safety net, on the Gross property, illuminated in the evening and seen from its neighbor’s house.

(Marc Towfiq)

Gross and his wife have pleaded not guilty to violating the restraining order. A lawyer for the couple accused the Towfiq of attempting to “arm” the no-contact order, saying police were called within minutes of the music hearing.

The hearing into the new allegations began with an unusual visit by the judge to homes on the South Coast Highway, where she listened inside Towfiq’s house as the Gross audio system played at multiple volume levels .

In support of Towfiq’s claim, his lawyers submitted videos from his iPhone, home security cameras and body cameras of the two police officers who attended the scene. Towfiq also alleged in court documents that his neighbors left umbrellas that blocked his view, much like the net, and asked the judge to order their removal.

Knill called the charge “small” in his decision on Friday.

During the hearing, Amy Gross said she felt the victim of the feud, fearing to go to her garden and deciding not to host her wedding reception at the home, which Gross bought in 2018 for $ 32. million dollars, according to Orange County. Register.

Gross’s lawyers have argued in court documents that the couple’s imprisonment if charged with contempt of court was “draconian” and “not in the best interests of Orange County.”

They cited Gross’s long philanthropic history in the county and suggested that he might revamp or remove some of the speakers, or that a sound monitor could be installed. Glaser told Knill in court that if Gross were found guilty of violating the restraining order, a fine or community service would be an appropriate punishment.

Gross announced in December that he had donated $ 500,000 to Orange County relief organizations. A spokesperson said the figure corresponded to what the billionaire spent on the dispute, including separate lawsuits brought by the two sides.

While feuds between wealthy neighbors are not uncommon in Southern California, the Gross-Towfiq dispute has drawn media attention for its origin over an expensive piece of art – and the role of the iconic theme song of television, which the couple testified to was one of their favorites. .

After the harassment decision in December, Gross said he was “disappointed” with the outcome but “will continue to dance the night away, ‘Gilligan’s Island’ forever.”

Bloomberg News contributed to this report.


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