It was déjà vu in Orange County court on Friday, as the billionaire Bill Gross awaited possible punishment for allegedly harassing his Laguna Beach neighbor with loud music (again.) As she took the bench, Judge Kimberly Knill admonished Gross for violating an existing restraining order, calling him “contemptuous,” then handed down her ruling: no more outdoor music, a $1,000 fine, and five days in jail. Gross’ wife, Amy, received an identical sentence.
The Grosses may not actually serve any of that time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The judge is allowing them to perform community service for two of the days, while the other three are being stayed for a year. Barring further infractions, they won’t have to serve them.
Attorneys for the Grosses’ neighbors, Mark Towfiq and Carol Nakahara, had lobbied for jail time.
In a statement on Friday evening, Gross called the decision “a travesty of justice and a black mark on the Orange County judicial system.” He added that the judge had an “obvious bias” and claimed she was “using the case to advance her promotion to a higher court.” He plans to appeal her ruling.
The feud between Towfiq and Gross began last year, after Gross installed white netting above an outdoor sculpture in his backyard. When Towfiq complained to local authorities, Gross allegedly retaliated by blaring music at all hours, including the Gilligan’s Island theme song on repeat.
The pair soon landed in court, and Judge Kimberly Knill sided with Towfiq. “There is no legitimate purpose to this behavior,” she declared. Knill issued a restraining order that barred the Grosses from playing loud music or approaching Towfiq and Nakahara for three years.
Then, this July, Towfiq called the police to complain that Gross had violated the order and was once again blasting his speakers. When the cops arrived, Gross refused to exit the pool to speak with them. He later claimed in court filings that he was concerned about being caught on camera without his shirt on.
“That is the type of people they are,” one of the frustrated police officers grumbled, in comments that were caught on body camera footage. The officer later testified that he was referring to the Grosses’ intransigence, while their lawyer, Patricia Glaser, suggested in court that his comments were anti-Semitic. (Amy Gross is Jewish.)
Glaser has previously represented other controversial clients, including Harvey Weinstein in his suit against his company, and Papa John’s founder John Schnatter.
No charges were filed in July. Gross’ attorneys have argued that Towfiq has been “exploiting” the restraining order and using it as “a weapon in his perverse obsession with Bill and Amy Gross.”
It has not been business as usual in the courtroom. Last month, at Gross’ urging, the judge took a field trip to the Laguna Beach properties. Donning her formal robes, and accompanied by a horde of lawyers and court staff, she spent 100 minutes inspecting speakers and taking decibel readings.
During testimony, Judge Knill’s demeanor has been hard to gauge, though Gross may not have done himself any favors following last year’s proceedings. In a public letter published in January, he poked fun at the whole affair, and the judge.
“She crinkled her eyes (of that I'm sure), every time the plaintiff's attorney played his pre-recorded Gilligan's Island video tapes...he being in his mid 50’s and oblivious to Gilligan’s Island reruns,” he wrote.
“The judge being even slightly younger seemed more inclined to like music by 50 Cent or Usher, so she ruled I couldn't play Gilligan's louder than I wasn't [supposed] to play it before. Hmm, Laguna Beach justice I suppose. A bona fide ‘hanging judge’ at the shore.”