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After VC Firm’s Harassment Scandal, Binary Co-Founder Gets Sued Via Tweet

Sarah McBride

(Bloomberg) -- Jonathan Teo, a founder of a venture capital firm accused of fostering a toxic environment for women in Silicon Valley, allegedly evaded a summons for months in a lawsuit related to his company’s scandals. But on Friday, the plaintiff’s lawyer finally caught up with him—on Twitter.

Chris Baker of Baker Curtis & Schwartz PC represents former Binary Capital principal Ann Lai in a lawsuit claiming she experienced harassment and defamation connected to her tenure at the firm. Late last month, Baker got permission from a judge in San Mateo County, California, to serve Teo with a lawsuit via his Twitter account, @jonteo, as well as in the Daily Journal, a legal newspaper.

So on Friday, the law firm tweeted its first message: a summons. “Dear Mr. Teo @jonteo. You and other Binary Capital entities have been sued,” the message read. “You’ve been served via tweet in accordance with a Court Order.” 

The tweet came after Baker Curtis & Schwartz made repeated efforts to try to track down Teo, including hiring a private investigator. The investigator, John Mason, visited Teo’s apartment building in San Francisco’s Mission District in late September, and later learned from the property manager that Teo had moved out of the building two weeks earlier, with no forwarding address, according to court documents.

Baker Curtis & Schwartz also tried getting Teo’s lawyer, Elizabeth McCloskey, to accept the summons, but she refused, according to the filings.

Summons by Twitter aren’t unprecedented, but they are rare. Last year, the Democratic National Committee served a lawsuit to WikiLeaks via Twitter in a move approved by a federal judge in Manhattan. In 2016, a San Francisco-based nonprofi sued a Kuwaiti man via Twitter after a U.S. magistrate signed off on the plan.

It also took additional maneuvering to serve co-defendant Justin Caldbeck, who lives in a gated community in Hillsborough, California, but Mason succeeded in early October, according to court filings. In October, Caldbeck agreed to pay Lai $85,000 in exchange for her dismissing litigation against him personally, according to court filings. Litigation against Teo and Binary Capital itself is ongoing. 

Through her attorney, Lai declined to comment. Calbeck and Teo’s lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Lai’s suit was originally filed in 2017, days after a report in the technology news site the Information claiming extensive harassment by Caldbeck. Teo was not initially a defendant, but Lai added him to the suit last year.

Caldbeck has apologized for misconduct with female entrepreneurs. After the accusations emerged, Teo said he had felt “misled” by Caldbeck about his behavior. Investment firm Lerer Hippeau has taken over the management of Binary’s portfolio.

To contact the author of this story: Sarah McBride in San Francisco at smcbride24@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anne VanderMey at avandermey@bloomberg.net, Mark Milian

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