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California billionaire proposes truce in neighbor dispute; his rival’s attorney scoffs

Billionaire investor Bill Gross on Monday called for an end to a legal dispute with his tech-entrepreneur neighbor, but there was no indication his public request would succeed in halting hearings tied to back-and-forth harassment complaints between the two Laguna Beach residents.

Attorneys during a series of court hearings over the past several weeks have presented dueling stories of alleged harassment between the owners of two oceanfront mansions.

Mark Towfiq, a former software company executive who moved into his current home with his wife in 2015, accuses Gross of installing a $1 million lawn sculpture and protective netting without required approval, then blaring music on repeat – including sitcom theme songs – in retaliation for Towfiq’s complaints to the city.

Attorneys for Gross, the Pimco investment firm founder who moved into his home with his girlfriend in 2018, allege the dispute actually began over parking issues that arose when an episode of the HBO show “Ballers” was filmed at Towfiq’s mansion. Gross has accused Towfiq of using cameras to spy on him and his girlfriend, former tennis pro Amy Schwartz.

Both sides are asking Orange County Superior Court Judge Kimberly A. Knill to grant restraining orders against the other party.

On Monday morning, Gross issued an open letter suggesting that he and Towfiq find a way to end their conflict in a way that would “benefit those in the community who are suffering the most from the economic fallout” of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gross suggested the two sides calculate what they have already spent, and would likely spend, on the ongoing legal battle and donate that amount to a local food bank or other charity.

“I strongly believe in my case and my concerns about invasion of privacy, but at the end of the day the lawsuits are about videotaping and music,” Gross wrote. “The absurdity would be laughable even to me if I wasn’t a direct participant.”

Jennifer Keller, one of the attorneys representing Towfiq, accused Gross of “using the need around us right now as a transparent PR tool.” She noted that Gross has not offered to remove the sculpture or netting.

“This is just billionaire Bill Gross trying to buy his way out of accountability for his horrible behavior,” Keller said in a statement. “He is losing the trial badly and is literally on the eve of being cross-examined about his harassment and lies, which he is desperate to avoid.”

On Monday afternoon, Gross indicated that he planned to make donations to Laguna Beach and Orange County charities by Friday. He denied he was trying to buy his way out of the case.

Also, the judge revealed at the end of Monday’s hearing that Gross and Schwartz have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. The two plan to take coronavirus tests on Tuesday, the judge said. Until the results are available, and it can be determined when Gross and Schwartz are available to testify in person, other witnesses may testify remotely, the judge added.

Testimony in the case is expected to continue on Thursday.


Source: Orange County Register

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