An Uber executive’s bare-knuckle approach to public relations appears to extend to his dealings with the landlord of his swank Pacific Heights condominium.
Emil Michael, a senior vice president at the controversial San Francisco ride-service company, generated plenty of headlines last month after he floated the idea of a million-dollar campaign to dig up dirt on the personal lives and families of journalists critical of Uber.
Now, court records show, Michael filed for a restraining order against his landlord, tech industry attorney John Danforth, in fall 2013, alleging there had been a “repeated pattern” to “harass and intimidate me with the goal of driving me out of my dwelling.”
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A judge later tossed out the case, saying Michael’s claims were “borderline frivolous,” according to a transcript of the hearing from Sept. 27, 2013.
But e-mails show that didn’t end the dispute.
In e-mails to Danforth later, Michael insults his landlord as “snarky and jealous” and boasts of being a friend of San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr.
Michael leased the renovated three-bedroom, two-bathroom, 1,986-square-foot condo from Danforth in June 2012 for $9,500 a month, lease and property documents show.
A real estate listing for the condo overlooking Alta Plaza says it has “an amazing amount of exclusive outdoor space including 3 indoor/outdoor patios and a private landscaped garden with remote control hot-tub.”
Michael alleged in the filings that Danforth’s harassment included “giving out keys to several of his workers” and an instance where “a stranger started making noise in my backyard.”
“I am in constant fear of someone entering my apartment and creating a dangerous situation,” Michael wrote in a handwritten request for a restraining order against Danforth on Sept. 5, 2013. Michael testified in a hearing later that month that he had armed himself with a baseball bat to confront the person in the backyard.
It was the gardener
The “stranger” turned out to be a “highly experienced gardener” doing her “routine monthly watering and clean up,” Danforth wrote in court filings.
The people who entered the apartment only after at least 24 hours written notice were a painter, a plumber, a locksmith and repairmen for the heater, dryer and refrigerator, Danforth wrote.
“This appears to be part of Mr. Michael’s efforts to escalate (and/or short-cut) a landlord-tenant dispute,” Danforth wrote, “something we have already tried to resolve through multiple contractor visits, two mediation sessions and protracted follow-up e-mails.”
During the hearing, Danforth testified that neighbors had been complaining about Michael, there had been a string of needed repairs at the condo, and Michael had painted the interior walls gray without permission.
After San Francisco Superior Court Judge Donald Sullivan tossed Michael’s case, he continued to send e-mails to Danforth.
“Finally, do you know Chief Greg Suhr?” one November 2013 e-mail reads. “Yes … we play poker together and we go to fundraisers for veterans together. He was childhood friends with one of my mentors and is a great guy.”
In April 2014, Michael writes: “Finally, you should have already or will be getting a call from the chief of police or his office warning you about your illegal entries to date and a warning about future ones.”
Suhr said Friday that he had met Michael and other Uber executives during a visit to the company’s headquarters to discuss helping at-risk children. Michael “seems like a nice enough guy,” but they are not friends, Suhr said.
‘Not friends’ with chief
“I know who he is. I’ve met him. We’re not friends,” Suhr said. The chief said police had been called out to the building in a dispute involving Michael and Danforth last year, but they determined it was “civil in nature,” rather than criminal.
Suhr said he had not personally intervened on Michael’s behalf.
“If we got involved in every landlord-tenant dispute, there would not be enough hours in the day,” Suhr said.
Michael did not return a call or e-mail seeking comment. Danforth declined to comment.
Michael, who oversees Uber’s partnership deals, came under fire last month after it was revealed that at a dinner in New York he had discussed organizing a smear team of four researchers and four journalists and siccing it on critics like Sarah Lacy, editor of tech website PandoDaily, who has been critical of Uber.
Uber and some investors responded with apologies via Twitter but otherwise seemed to shrug off another in a string of Uber public relations nightmares, including car crashes and assaults by drivers with sketchy records, reports of dirty tricks to sabotage rivals and violations of rules regulating for-hire cars in cities worldwide.
On Tuesday, prosecutors in San Francisco and Los Angeles filed a consumer protection lawsuit against Uber for allegedly misleading customers about driver background checks and violating state laws about airport rides and calculating fares.
Chronicle staff writer Carolyn Said contributed to this report.
John Coté is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @johnwcote