Billionaire bond king Bill Gross and his wife were found in contempt of court Friday for violating a restraining order issued as part of a noise dispute with their Laguna Beach neighbor, and the couple were ordered to spend two days performing community service.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Knill officially sentenced the PIMCO founder and his wife to five days in jail, but she said they could serve two of those days performing community service and avoid serving the other three days in custody if they do not commit any other violations in the next year.
The couple’s attorneys, however, were granted 30 days to file an appeal.
Knill issued a three-year restraining order last year following complaints from Mark Towfiq and his wife Carol Nakahara, who complained that the Grosses were blasting loud music in their backyard, most notably the repeated playing of TV show theme songs like “Gilligan’s Island.”
The couple began playing the music after Towfiq complained to the city about netting Gross had installed around an art installation in his yard — blocking Towfiq’s scenic ocean view. In that dispute, Knill ordered Gross to pay the Towfiqs $260,784.28 in attorneys fees.
In early July, Towfiq and his wife complained to police that the Grosses were again playing loud music and shouting, jolting them out of bed. They complained that the loud music was blasting until about 10:40 p.m., well after a 9 p.m. curfew.
Following the incident — during which police declined to issue any citations to the Grosses — Towfiq and Nakahara went to court, seeking a five-year extension of the restraining order to prohibit them from playing music outdoors. They also wanted the judge to restrict the height of any umbrellas on the Gross property to 7 feet, claiming a 15-foot one the couple added also restricted Towfiq’s view of the ocean.
Knill on Friday ordered the Grosses not to play any outdoor music at the property, but she declined to get involved in the dispute over the height of umbrellas, calling it a “petty” dispute. She disputed that the umbrellas blocked the Towfiq’s view.
“The view is vast and gorgeous,” said Knill, who visited the property during the proceedings.
The Grosses attorney, Patricia Glaser, told reporters following the hearing it “should be enough” that the couple were ordered not to play any more outdoor music.
Bill Gross told reporters, “The only relevant fact in this case is there was no police citation.”
“This rates below a parking ticket,” Gross said. “It’s only Mr. and Mrs. Towfiq who maintain their peace was disturbed.”
Gross called the hearings “two weeks of nonsense.”
Attorney Chase Scolnick, who represents the Towfiqs, said his clients were “pleased with today’s” ruling and “hope that it causes the Grosses to modify their behavior, so my clients can live in peace, which is all they ever wanted.”
Gross issued a statement following the ruling calling the trial a “travesty of justice and a black mark on the Orange County judicial system.”
Gross accused Knill of “using the case to advance her promotion to a higher court.”
He acknowledged that he wrote in an earlier public investment forecast that “she resembled the hanging judge at the Laguna Beach shore,” and that he hoped “she could overcome her bias as a result of this criticism, but obviously she could not.”
Knill said the fact that Orange County prosecutors declined to file charges over the noise complaint was irrelevant to her decision. She also brushed off any suggestion that the decibel level of the music had to be at any level to merit a violation of the order.
She noted that the body-worn cameras of the responding officers showed the music could be heard “even over the highway traffic.”
The officers had to “shout over the music” to urge the Grosses to turn the music down, Knill said.
Amy Gross kept responding that the music was at the allowed level of 60 decibels. But the officers responded that it was “disturbing the peace” of the neighbors, Knill said.
The judge said she found the loud music represented an attempt to “walk up to the line” of the court’s order. She also referred to Amy Gross’ selfie video in the pool in which she twirls around saying, “We’re outside, yes we are.”
Knill noted, “She’s smiling and laughing,” and called Amy Gross’ explanation that she recorded the video to legally protect herself “preposterous.”
Knill said Amy Gross was “lacking in credibility.”
The judge said Bill Gross “was more subtle” about flouting the court order.
“But he was contemptuous just the same,” and acted the part of “instigator” for his wife, Knill said.
“He does nothing to quiet his wife,” Knill said. “It’s nothing short of unadorned contempt… They flagrantly violated the order because it clashed with their will. … It appears they only care about their own desires.”
Glaser asked Knill if her clients could serve the time under house arrest, but Scolnick said, “Allowing them to stay in their own house would not be punishment at all.”
Scolnick suggested the couple could do time behind bars in a jail such as Santa Ana’s where some defendants can pay to stay there instead of in Orange County Jail.
That drew an irate response from Glaser, who said, “We’re not talking about someone who robbed a bank or murdered someone.” She suggested house arrest in another property outside of Laguna Beach.
Knill said it was her “sincere desire” that the conflicts would end.
“An opportunity exists to begin again,” Knill said.
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