Gross’s Noise Expert Detours From ‘Gilligan’ to Music in Warfare
(Bloomberg) -- Bill Gross called on a noise expert to convince a judge he wasn’t trying to annoy his neighbor by playing the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song repeatedly, but the witness wound up having to downplay a comparison to the U.S. military’s use of loud music as psychological warfare.
NASA scientist Durand Begault finished his testimony in a Southern California court Thursday where a judge is hearing dueling harassment claims from Gross and his Laguna Beach neighbor Mark Towfiq.
Under questioning from Gross’s lawyer, Begault explained that the military played loud music to get former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega to leave an embassy and surrender. But it employed giant speakers more powerful than those he saw outside Gross’s home, he said. In December 1989, the military blasted mostly heavy metal rock at the Vatican embassy where Noriega holed up for days. The song list also included Christmas music and “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins.
Towfiq’s lawyer Chase Scolnick took up the issue on cross-examination.
“You discussed the United States’ military’s use of loud speakers in psychological operations, right, and they had a lot of loud speakers in the Noriega context?” Scolnick asked.
“That was my understanding,” Begault replied.
“Is it true that the United States military’s use of music was always played below 80 decibels?” Scolnick asked.
“I have no knowledge of the capability of those sized speakers,” Begault said.
“And you’re not saying the speakers you saw outside Mr. Gross’s home are not capable of producing 80 decibel music?” Scolnick continued.
The judge stopped Begault from answering the question.
Begault testified his company charges $585 an hour for his services, and he expects Gross will be billed for more than 10 hours and less than 40 hours, or as much as $23,400.
Towfiq, a tech entrepreneur, and Gross have been locked in a public feud for months with Towfiq claiming it started when he filed a complaint with city officials over the billionaire’s installation of protective netting over a million-dollar sculpture in Gross’s yard. Towfiq claims Gross retaliated by blasting music at unreasonable volume. Gross has accused Towfiq of being a “peeping Tom” by photographing and recording him and his girlfriend Amy Schwartz.
Later Thursday, Rory Miller, a lawyer for Gross, tried to ask the expert about the effects loud music may have on a person who’s on the autism spectrum.
“It’s a matter of public record that Mr. Gross has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder,” Miller told the court. “The allegation is that Mr. Gross and Ms. Schwartz played loud music such that it was in violation of noise ordinances. The credibility of that allegation is undermined by the fact that individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome such as Mr. Gross are particularly distressed by loud noises.”
Scolnick countered that Miller’s claim “was a bit of a stretch,” because Towfiq has testified Gross played the music “outside with his door shut.”
Begault said he hadn’t conducted any relevant research.
Scolnick said he expected to call Schwartz as his next witness when the hearing resumes Monday.
Gross and Schwartz have been in quarantine since Monday after their lawyer said they learned they’d been in contact with people who’d tested positive for Covid-19.
Gross again called on Towfiq Thursday to end the hearing and settle their dispute by contributing the amount of his legal fees to a charity. Towfiq had already rejected the proposal earlier this week.
“Mr. Gross has already lived up to his side of the proposal by donating to multiple charities before even having the opportunity to make his case in court,” the billionaire’s lawyer Jill Basinger said in a statement. “The offer still stands for Mr. Towfiq to do something that benefits people in need instead of himself.”
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