A petty feud between a billionaire and his not-quite-as-rich neighbor over noise has gotten so nasty that a California judge had to leave her courtroom for a field trip to Laguna Beach and trade in her gavel for a decibel meter.
The surreal scene—Orange County Judge Kimberly Knill in her formal robes, followed by a gaggle of attorneys and court staff, inspecting outdoor speakers and listening to the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean—was the latest weird twist in a dispute between bond king Bill Gross and tech entrepreneur Mark Towfiq.
The inspection was sparked by an incident in July in which Towfiq called the police to allege that Gross was ignoring a previous court order to stop harassing him with grotesquely loud music. Gross’ attorney maintains that Towfiq is “exploiting” the restraining order and using it as “a weapon in his perverse obsession with Bill and Amy Gross.”
At Gross’ request, the judge spent 100 minutes on Monday visiting the properties of the two combatants—before returning Tuesday to the bench for a different kind of earful as a hearing on the matter continued.
The conflict began in 2020, after Gross installed white netting over an outdoor sculpture. Towfiq found the netting displeasing and complained to the city, allegedly prompting Gross to commence his aural war, blaring the Gilligan’s Island theme song on a loop, along with other tunes.
In subsequent litigation, Knill sided with Towfiq. “There is no legitimate purpose to this behavior,” she said. She barred the Grosses from playing music above 60 decibels and ordered them to keep 15 feet away from Towfiq for three years.
For a time, the fighting ceased. Then, in early July, Towfiq called the cops, alleging that Gross was once again blasting music.
The billionaire, meanwhile, says he was just taking an evening swim with his new wife and the officiant from their wedding. They turned on some subtle jams “on small personal speakers” and were taken aback when the police showed up at 9:30 pm.
The officers asked Gross to exit the pool to speak with them, but he declined, since he believed Towfiq was taking a video recording.
“He was incredibly embarrassed by the video of him shirtless that was introduced as an exhibit during the civil harassment restraining order hearing, and which also circulated on social media,” Gross’ lawyers wrote in court documents last month, explaining the refusal. No charges were filed.
Gross wants the terms of the restraining order modified so that he and Amy Gross can “enjoy their music when they are outdoors while simultaneously knowing that they are not in violation of [it].”
A hearing over the dispute was delayed until this month, since the Grosses were honeymooning in Greenland. Both men are expected to take the stand before Knill rules.
As the proceedings continue, Gross may not have done himself any favors with the judge—assuming she reads investment forecasts.
In a public letter posted in January, ostensibly about his market outlook, Gross recalled sitting in Knill’s courtroom last year. “It was hard to see her though with covid mask and all. 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.
Gross continued: “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.”