Bill Gross’s enthusiasm for playing the theme to “Gilligan’s Island” loudly outside his Southern California oceanfront home was muted by a judge who imposed strict limits on the Bond King after his neighbor called it “cruel” harassment.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Knill on Wednesday ordered Gross and his partner Amy Schwartz to stop playing music when they aren’t outdoors for three years and to stay away from their neighbors.
Tech entrepreneur Mark Towfiq sought the restraining order to stop what he alleged was a campaign of retaliation that started after he complained to city officials that the billionaire co-founder of Pacific Investment Management Co. had installed unsightly netting over a million-dollar sculpture in his yard.
“The court finds the evidence demonstrates Gross and Schwartz willfully playing music to annoy or harass their neighbors,” Knill said.
“The evidence demonstrates on Aug. 23, 2020, Gross and Schwartz manually started the playlist over and over again,” Knill says, noting that a 17-minute video from a camera in Towfiq’s property showed that “Gilligan’s Island” played eight times, as did “Green Acres.”
The judge issued her ruling on the neighbors’ dueling harassment complaints after holding one of the rare live trials in California during the coronavirus pandemic. The two men still have separate lawsuits pending against each other seeking monetary damages.
Knill issued her ruling after hearing testimony over nine days from both men, their partners, a NASA scientist with expertise on sound and Laguna Beach officials.
The neighbors both have modernistic, multimillion-dollar trophy homes perched on a Laguna Beach bluff overlooking the Pacific. Gross, 76, known as the Bond King for having run the $270 billion Total Return Fund at Pimco, also has a home in Newport Beach.
That’s where he was when became captivated by the theme from “Gilligan’s Island,” he said.
Gross told the judge he found an episode of the sitcom on YouTube and noticed that the opening sequence, showing the S.S. Minnow leaving a harbor, was filmed right outside his home. He said he called Schwartz over and their love of the song about seven stranded castaways began.
“Over time, we’ve learned lyrics and we act together with hands and pointing. It’s like a little play,” he testified. “We play it because it makes us real happy. Half the time we start dancing and when we finish we’re looking at each other like it’s a good time.”
But Towfiq described the music as a weapon of “revenge.”
He said Gross and Schwartz began blasting the “Gilligan’s Island” theme, as well as other TV show theme songs, rap and Mariachi music in late July, soon after he asked the city to order Gross to remove protective netting suspended over a 22-foot-long blown glass sculpture by artist Dale Chihuly.
The judge agreed with Towfiq, saying she found Gross and Schwartz’s version of events as unbelievable.
“There is no legitimate purpose to this behavior,” she said. “Despite the testimony of Gross and Schwartz that they like Gilligan’s Island and it has special meaning to them, a reasonable person would suffer substantial emotional distress repeatedly being on the receiving end of unwanted repetitive music.”
“The court also finds Towfiq and Nakahara both suffered substantial emotional distress caused by the harassment evidence that is undisputed they left her home one weekend, rather than subject themselves to ongoing music,” she said.
Before that, the tech entrepreneur said his relationship with his neighbors had been amicable. He and his wife had been invited to Schwartz’s 50th birthday bash featuring pop star Kenny Loggins playing at Gross’s home.
After the trial began, Gross proposed to settle the dispute with a pledge by both neighbors to donate the money they were spending on litigation to charities. Towfiq rejected the offer, with his lawyer calling it an attempt by Gross “to buy his way out of accountability for his horrible behavior.”
In their testimony, Gross and Schwartz denied playing music loudly, saying they used a decibel meter to keep track of the volume.
They also said the dispute began months earlier when Towfiq allowed the crew of the HBO series “Ballers” to block access to Gross’s driveway while they were shooting an episode on his property.
Gross said one encounter with Towfiq recording him outside with his iPhone was so scary it reminded him of his combat experience in Vietnam.
Several Laguna Beach police testified they heard loud music when they responded to Towfiq’s complaints, with one saying the Mariachi music booming from Gross’s outdoor speakers was louder than the surf or adjacent Pacific Coast Highway.
A police officer and city official also said that Schwartz and Gross offered to stop the music if Towfiq dropped his complaint about the sculpture.
Towfiq’s wife, Carol Nakahara, testified that she began brushing her teeth in the dark, fearing that switching on the lights would trigger another barrage of noise.
Knill’s decision doesn’t end the neighborly discord. Both sides have filed lawsuits in Orange County Superior Court that could be heard in 2021.
— Check out Bill Gross Leaves Bond Field With ‘A Few Super Bowl Rings’ and Some Dings on ThinkAdvisor.