Bill Gross’s expert sound witness tried to downplay a comparison between the U.S. military’s use of loud music as psychological warfare and the billionaire playing the “Gilligan Island” theme song repeatedly to annoy his neighbor — but ended up in the hot seat over it.
NASA scientist Durand Begault finished his testimony in a Southern California court Thursday where a judge is hearing dueling harassment claims from Gross and his Laguna Beach neighbor Mark Towfiq.
Under questioning from Gross’s lawyer, Begault explained that the military played loud music to get former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega to leave an embassy and surrender. But it employed giant speakers more powerful than those he saw outside Gross’s home, he said. In December 1989, the military blasted mostly heavy metal rock at the Vatican embassy where Noriega holed up for days. Thesong list also included Christmas music and “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins.
Towfiq’s lawyer Chase Skolnick took up the issue on cross-examination.
“You discussed the United States’ military’s use of loud speakers in psychological operations, right, and they had a lot of loud speakers in the Noreiga context?” Skolnick asked.
“That was my understanding,” Begault replied.
“Is it true that the United States military’s use of music was always played below 80 decibels?” Skolnick asked.
“I have no knowledge of the capability of those sized speakers,” Begault said.
“And you’re not saying the speakers you saw outside Mr. Gross’s home are not capable of producing 80 decibel music?” Skolnick continued.
The judge stopped Begault from answering the question.
Begault testified his company charges $585 an hour for his services, and he expects Gross will be billed for more than 10 hours and less than 40 hours, or as much as $23,400.
Towfiq, a tech entrepreneur, and Gross have been locked in a public feud for months with Towfiq claiming it started when he filed a complaint with city officials over the billionaire’s installation of protective netting over a million-dollar sculpture in Gross’s yard. Towfiq claims Gross retaliated by blasting music at unreasonable volume. Gross has accused Towfiq of being a “peeping Tom” by photographing and recording him and his girlfriend Amy Schwartz.
Later Thursday, Rory Miller, a lawyer for Gross, tried to ask the expert about the effects loud music may have on a person who’s on the autism spectrum.
“It’s a matter of public record that Mr. Gross has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder,” Miller told the court. “The allegation is that Mr. Gross and Ms. Schwartz played loud music such that it was in violation of noise ordinances. The credibility of that allegation is undermined by the fact that individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome such as Mr. Gross are particularly distressed by loud noises.”
Skolnick countered that Miller’s claim “was a bit of a stretch,” because Towfiq has testified Gross played the music “outside with his door shut.”
Begault said he hadn’t conducted any relevant research.
Skolnick said he expected to call Schwartz as his next witness when the hearing resumes Monday.
Gross and Schwartz have been in quarantine since Monday after their lawyer said they learned they’d been in contact with people who’d tested positive for Covid-19.
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