Gross’s Lawyer Says ‘That’s Just Music,’ Not Harassment
(Bloomberg) -- Bill Gross’s lawyer told a judge that if her client enjoys playing the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song at his Southern California beachfront home, “that’s not harassment, that’s just music.”
After nine days of testimony in the dueling harassment claims by the billionaire and the tech entrepreneur next door the hearing ended Wednesday with each of the neighbors being accused of “lying” by opposing lawyers. The closing arguments were often as contentious as the allegations the feuding neighbors have traded.
Gross’s lawyer Jill Basinger said neighbor Mark Towfiq’s claims that the billionaire was harassing him by blaring rap music and theme songs from old TV shows were “ludicrous.” She asked the judge to impose an order restraining the tech entrepreneur from using his iPhone to photograph or recording Gross and his partner Amy Schwartz.
“It’s not about ‘Gilligan’s Island,’” Basinger insisted. “It’s not about ‘Green Acres.’ It’s not about 50 Cent. It’s that they don’t want music playing. It bothers them. Well, I’m sorry, but that’s not what the law is, that’s not what the code is. It’s not done to harass them. They play music they like.”
Towfiq’s lawyer Chase Scolnick argued the Pacific Investment Management Co LLC co-founder was a “bully” who engaged in “extortion” and a “calculated and cruel campaign” of playing loud music to get Towfiq to drop a complaint about a net the billionaire installed over a sculpture on his property.
Scolnick asked the judge to bar Gross and Schwartz for three years from playing loud music outdoors, when they weren’t outside. He also wants the couple ordered to answer the door when there is a noise complaint.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Knill said she would issue her decision on Dec. 23.
For more than two hours Wednesday, the two sides painted diametrically opposing pictures of the dispute. Basinger assailed Towfiq and his wife’s noise complaints, insisting that her clients were entitled to listen to music in their own home.
She said Gross and Schwartz played music late at night only once, on July 31. The “Gilligan’s Island’s” theme played repeatedly because the couple were “excited” and “loved” the tune about the seven stranded castaways, Basinger said.
“Yes, there was music playing on the property, as is appropriate,” Basinger said. “They just don’t want music played,“ she said of the Towfiq and his wife.
But Scolnick argued Gross and Schwartz conducted an intentional campaign of harassment that made his clients “prisoners in their own house.”
The music began blaring just days after Towfiq filed the complaint with city officials, Scolnick said. Towfiq sought to have netting over a million-dollar piece of art in Gross’s yard removed because he deemed it unsightly.
On two nights, after Towfiq texted Schwartz asking her to lower the volume, Gross and Schwartz asked Towfiq if he was going to drop his zoning complaint, Scolnick said. Loud music continued until a day before the court hearing began on Nov. 9, Scolnick said.
Scolnick said a video his client took in August shows Gross outside, with the music stopping, and after a pause the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song resuming. Both Gross and Schwartz testified the music couldn’t start playing on its own, he said, suggesting that Schwartz intentionally re-launched the theme show barrage.
While Gross and Schwartz testified Schwartz doesn’t know how to use the sound system -- or even the remote control to turn off the TV, under questioning by the judge, Gross acknowledged the house sound system doesn’t operate automatically and has to be turned on and off manually.
Basinger meanwhile argued that Towfiq’s recording of the encounter in August was Gross’s “worst fear” coming true. Photos of the billionaire, a “public figure” in a “state of undress” -- shirtless and in his shorts -- were later published “all around the country,” Basinger said.
”The court is obviously going to take some time to think this through and digest the arguments that have been made,” the judge said at the end of the hearing. She noted it was held during the pandemic, with one day conducted by a remote video feed after Gross and Schwartz were exposed to someone with Covid-19.
“You can see the challenges the court faces with having to have a remote hearing so I’m glad that you were able, and we all stayed safe here in the courtroom and you were able to come here in person,” Knill said. “Had we did this hearing 100% remote, we would probably be here until late spring or something.”
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