When last we heard from billionaire bond investor Bill Gross and his Laguna Beach neighbor, tech entrepreneur Mark Towfiq, they were embarking on a bitter October court battle over Gross’s $1 million Dale Chihuly backyard sculpture that Towfiq claimed was obstructing his seaside view. Now, as testimony begins in Orange County Superior Court, Gross is calling for both parties to abandon their dueling restraining orders, drop the lawsuit, and donate their legal fees to charity.
Towfiq and his lawyer, however, want no part of that olive branch.
In an open letter published Monday, Gross said the case had become ridiculous, sapping the public’s energy through overexposure in the media, and needlessly risking the health of all involved by forcing them into close courthouse contact during the pandemic.
“The absurdity would be laughable even to me if I wasn’t a direct participant,” Gross wrote. Instead, he proposed that he and Towfiq “calculate all our respective legal fees and court expenses that we have already spent and will spend on this multifront battle, agree to end all hostilities, and instead donate the proceeds to Orange County food banks and other charities providing critical assistance in this time of need.”
Towfiq’s lawyer, Jennifer Keller, dismissed the offer as a ham-fisted ploy, telling The Washington Post, “Make no mistake: this is not an offer to settle. This is a desperate stunt to stem the tide of negative press the public exposure of Gross’s actions has produced.”
And although Gross is a known philanthropist, Keller said of his charity idea, “If billionaire Gross is so eager to contribute to people who are hurting, he is welcome to do so at any time. It is unfortunate that he is using the need all around us right now as a transparent PR tool.”
It’s not too hard to imagine why Towfiq isn’t eager to just walk away from a fight that began when Gross installed protective netting around his mammoth blown-glass artwork after it suffered $50,000 in damages—with Gross claiming someone threw something at it and Towfiq saying a branch must have fallen on the piece.
From there, the carnage escalated quickly. Gross and his wife accused Towfiq of being a Peeping Tom “obsessed” with seeing them nude in their pool, and of preventing them from entering their home at one point because trucks from HBO’s Ballers blocked his driveway when Towfiq rented his house to the show for a week. Towfiq in turn accused Gross of blasting the Gilligan’s Island theme song and other ghastly numbers to torture him and his wife into dropping their lawsuit.
Responding to Towfiq’s refusal to quit the battlefield, Gross’s attorney, Jill Basinger, told Los Angeles in a statement, “Mr. Towfiq’s rejection of Mr. Gross’s proposal that we settle this dispute in a way that will benefit those in need during these difficult times proves our assertion that his claims are nothing more than a thinly-veiled publicity stunt and desperate money grab, and that he cares about no one other than himself. The fact that someone with his wealth would reject this opportunity to help those considerably less fortunate, I believe, speaks volumes about his character—or lack thereof.”
Basinger had words for Towfiq’s lawyer as well: “I also find it interesting that the attorney who speaks on his behalf, Jennifer Keller, has yet to set foot anywhere near the courtroom. But Ms. Keller doesn’t miss an opportunity to comment about a case and a person she knows nothing about.”
Gross himself tells Los Angeles that his offer still stands, saying, “Despite Mr. Towfiq’s vindictive and self-serving rejection of my proposal that we settle our dispute and redirect all legal fees and costs to Orange County food banks and other charities providing critical assistance in this time of need, I am still willing to do my part. I intend to calculate my legal fees and court expenses that I have already spent and will spend in this case, and will donate the proceeds to Laguna Beach and Orange County charities by this Friday. My offer to Mr. Towfiq was never intended to ‘buy’ my way out of this case. It is to reserve court time for more important litigation, and to provide something of value to our community, not to benefit one side or the other except to cease hostilities.”
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