VegNews Editor Attempts to Rewrite History

It’s fair to say that the vegetarian world gave me my start. In 1996, I began volunteering with various groups to promote plant-based eating. I soon discovered Marion Nestle’s work on the politics of the meat and dairy industries and I was hooked. In the early years of doing this work I made numerous friends in the San Francisco area who I still remain close to today. Something about a shared bond over food choices and values that makes for lasting friendships. So it’s with a heavy heart that I write this unusual post, to expose an injustice being done to one of those dear friends: Colleen Holland.

I remember when Colleen formed a relationship with Joe Connelly in 1999, and together they started VegNews magazine in 2000. (I wrote a column on food politics for the magazine briefly around 2004 and until recently, was friendly with Joe as well.) Things have been falling apart in their relationship for the past few years, but have recently taken a very ugly turn. Despite numerous attempts by Colleen to settle their differences, Joe has taken the drastic step of filing a lawsuit against Colleen. In a case that gives new meaning to the phrase “frivolous lawsuit,” Joe is suing Colleen for breach of contract and fraud, among other incongruous causes of action, claiming Colleen owes him the ridiculous sum of $4.5 million.

The case boils down to this: Joe claims he is the sole owner of VegNews and Colleen is just an employee. So in the split, he should get all of the business and she gets nothing. In contrast, Colleen has only ever asked for her rightful half of the value of VegNews. Having witnessed the magazine’s progress since the beginning, here is my take: Joe was a good writer, but Colleen brought the business smarts and creativity to turn their vision into a reality. What began as a tabloid newsletter in just a few years morphed into an award-winning lifestyle magazine, distributed widely and appearing on newsstands nationally. This could not have happened without Colleen’s golden touch. Moreover, since the beginning, Colleen has been responsible for selling advertising space, the magazine’s main source of revenue; her success is due to her warm personality and business acumen. While Joe was writing book reviews, Colleen was forming lasting relationships with clients, vendors, and staff, keeping the magazine going.

There has never been any question that Joe and Colleen started VegNews together, grew it together from a seed of an idea to a national magazine. But now, Joe seeks to rewrite history by claiming he is the sole founder and owner of VegNews. This is contrary to both reality and common sense. The sad thing is anyone who knows Joe and Colleen understands the truth: that Colleen is the creative genius behind VegNews. Even if you don’t know them, there is plenty of proof of their obvious partnership. Joe and Colleen have been interviewed over the years as co-founders. For example, in this 2009 feature on the couple in the San Francisco Chronicle, they are both referred to as “founders of the magazine VegNews.” In this 2010 podcast interview by Our Hen House, they are celebrated as a “vegan power couple, publishers of the uber-popular VegNews Magazine.” This is how the entire vegetarian movement thinks them: the couple that started VegNews together, and still runs it together 13 years later. Here is how another friend, Davy Davidson, put it in her declaration filed to support Colleen’s defense:

Throughout my relationship with Joe and Colleen, Joe has always referred to Colleen as his business partner and co-founder of VegNews. I have been part of the vegetarian community for a number of years and through my activities and business affairs have developed a close network of friends and associates who are familiar with VegNews and who know Colleen and Joe personally and as the partners behind VegNews.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Sorry Joe, but filing a lawsuit can’t change history or reality. To make matters worse, since the case was filed last August (and even before) Joe has engaged in numerous forms of harassment and unethical business practices, including locking Colleen out of the magazine’s finances and other important records she needs to function. Things have gotten so bad in the VegNews office that Colleen’s lawyer has filed a motion to have the business placed in receivership. This is an untenable situation for everyone involved. The VegNews staff is dedicated to putting out a high-quality magazine and deserves a stable work environment, one that isn’t full of tension and uncertainty.

While I am used to writing about injustices committed by powerful food industry interests, this one is being perpetrated by an individual who I used to respect. The worst part is how my dear friend Colleen – an incredibly talented, dedicated, and beautiful woman in every sense of the word – is being made to suffer so needlessly at the hands of a ruthless and bitter man. How can Joe claim to be an ethical vegan while demonstrating not one ounce of compassion for a woman he once loved? This lawsuit needs to come to an end; litigation is an ugly, lengthy, and expensive process. Joe can choose to negotiate a reasonable settlement with Colleen right now so they can both move on with their lives.

I am writing this in hope that bringing this injustice to light will motivate others to also rally support around Colleen Holland. Let’s send a strong message to Joe Connelly that he should settle this case in a fair and compassionate manner. Now.

Here are a few of the legal documents from the case:

- Amended Complaint filed by Joe Connelly
- Cross-Complaint filed by Colleen Holland
- Motion to Appoint Receiver filed by Colleen Holland
- Colleen Holland’s Declaration
- Davy Davidson’s Declaration in support of Colleen Holland
- Al Whaley’s Declaration in support of Colleen Holland

17 Responses to “VegNews Editor Attempts to Rewrite History”

  1. Michele Simon says:

    Thanks, Syed. Joe has not actually fired Colleen, which is actually odd given that he claims she is only an employee. The only explanation I can fathom is this: he knows that without her, the magazine would fall completely apart.

  2. Nancy Loewen says:

    Thank you, Michelle, for this history about two people so many of us have admired and cared about. I wish that I had the power to convince Joe to rescind his lawsuit and to instead end his personal and professional relationship with Colleen in a humane, nonabusive, and yes, generous manner. Such an action would acknowledge the tremendous, absolutely critical contributions Colleen has made to VegNews. The issues of who started what and who has done the most work or deserves the most credit are felt to be totally unimportant in the bloom of love, while excruciatingly important when in the grip of the hatred and humiliation that separation can bring. But to exaggerate those feelings during a breakup is not only a mistake in terms of the huge amount of energy and resources needed to prove who is “right,” but also, in the larger picture, does nothing to promote the goals of the vegetarian movement, which surely include compassion, generosity, forgiveness, and humility. Joe’s insistence that this form of jutice must be pursued in order for him to contine to promote vegetarianism or to earn his living does not jive with the philosophjy promoted by VegNews. On the other hand, if Joe were to now change his course of action, terminate the lawsuit, and end his relationship with Colleen in a reasonable, mature, and generous manner, there would be cause for admiration, in addition to the real sadness we must all feel about this situation. Joe — it is in your power to take the high road and I hope with all my heart that you will be courageous and do just that.

  3. lisa says:

    I imagine this took an immense amount of courage for Michele to write and I applaud her bravery in taking some risks (both professionally and personally) in wanting to get this story out.

    I think what Nancy wrote above was so well stated and I don’t have much to add. I do hope that Joe will come to his senses and realize that this lawsuit will only cause great personal and professional strife for all parties, and most sadly the animals who will lose out if this case drags on and costs tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

  4. Charles Babbage says:

    Why aren’t we hearing anything about Joseph filing personal and VegNews bankruptcy to stop the lawsuit?

    • michele says:

      stay tuned. thanks for asking about it

      • Charles Babbage says:

        U.S. Bankruptcy Court
        Northern District of California (San Francisco)
        Bankruptcy Petition #: 13-32266

        Assigned to: Judge Dennis Montali
        Chapter 11
        Show Associated Cases
        Claims Register

        Date filed: 10/15/2013
        341 meeting: 11/12/2013
        Deadline for filing claims: 02/10/2014
        Deadline for objecting to discharge: 01/13/2014

        Joseph Connelly
        PO Box 320130
        San Francisco, CA 94132
        SSN / ITIN: xxx-xx-4893
        dba VegNews

        represented by Stephen D. Finestone
        Law Offices of Stephen D. Finestone
        456 Montgomery St. 20th Fl.
        San Francisco, CA 94104
        (415) 421-2624

        U.S. Trustee
        Office of the U.S. Trustee / SF
        Office of the U.S. Trustee
        235 Pine St
        Suite 700
        San Francisco, CA 94104
        (415) 705-3333 represented by Minnie Loo
        Office of the U.S. Trustee
        235 Pine St. 7th Fl
        San Francisco, CA 94104-3484

        Filing Date # Docket Text
        10/15/2013 1
        (48 pgs) Chapter 11 Voluntary Petition, Fee Amount $1213, Filed by Joseph Connelly. Order Meeting of Creditors due by 10/22/2013. (Finestone, Stephen). INCLUDES: Chapter 11 Statement of Current Monthly Income. INCOMPLETE FILINGS: Refer to Order to File Required Documents. Modified on 10/16/2013 (ia). (Entered: 10/15/2013)
        10/15/2013 2
        (1 pg) Certificate of Credit Counseling Filed by Debtor Joseph Connelly (Finestone, Stephen) (Entered: 10/15/2013)
        10/15/2013 3 Statement of Social Security Number. Filed by Debtor Joseph Connelly (Finestone, Stephen) (Entered: 10/15/2013)
        10/15/2013 First Meeting of Creditors with 341(a) meeting to be held on 11/12/2013 at 10:30 AM at San Francisco U.S. Trustee Office. Last Day to Determine Dischargeability of Certain Debts due by 01/13/2014. Proof of Claim due by 02/10/2014. (Finestone, Stephen) (Entered: 10/15/2013)
        10/15/2013 Receipt of filing fee for Voluntary Petition (Chapter 11)(13-32266) [misc,volp11] (1213.00). Receipt number 21075059, amount $1213.00 (re: Doc# 1 Voluntary Petition (Chapter 11)) (U.S. Treasury) (Entered: 10/15/2013)
        10/16/2013 4
        (4 pgs) Application to Employ Law Offices of Stephen D. Finestone as counsel for Chapter 11 Debtor Filed by Debtor Joseph Connelly (Finestone, Stephen) (Entered: 10/16/2013)
        10/16/2013 5
        (4 pgs) Declaration of Stephen D. Finestone in support of (RE: related document(s)4 Application to Employ). Filed by Debtor Joseph Connelly (Finestone, Stephen) (Entered: 10/16/2013)
        10/16/2013 6
        (2 pgs; 2 docs) Order To File Required Documents and Notice Regarding Dismissal Non-Compliance (Documents) due by 10/30/2013 (ia) (Entered: 10/16/2013)
        10/16/2013 7
        (3 pgs; 2 docs) Notice of Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Case, Meeting of Creditors, and Deadlines (Generated) (ia) (Entered: 10/16/2013)
        10/16/2013 8
        (3 pgs; 2 docs) Order for Payment of State and Federal Taxes (ia) (Entered: 10/16/2013)
        10/16/2013 9
        (2 pgs; 2 docs) Unsecured Creditors Committee Acceptance or Rejection Form (ia) (Entered: 10/16/2013)
        10/16/2013 10
        (9 pgs) Order Establishing Procedures for Disclosure Statement Hearing and Confirmation Hearing. (rw) (Entered: 10/17/2013)
        10/17/2013 11
        (1 pg) Notice of Appearance and Request for Notice by Minnie Loo. Filed by U.S. Trustee Office of the U.S. Trustee / SF (Loo, Minnie) (Entered: 10/17/2013)
        10/18/2013 12
        (3 pgs) BNC Certificate of Mailing – Meeting of Creditors. (RE: related document(s) 7 Generate 341 Notices). Notice Date 10/18/2013. (Admin.) (Entered: 10/18/2013)
        10/18/2013 13
        (3 pgs) BNC Certificate of Mailing – Payment of State and Fed Taxes. (RE: related document(s) 8 Order for Payment of State and Federal Taxes). Notice Date 10/18/2013. (Admin.) (Entered: 10/18/2013)
        10/18/2013 14
        (2 pgs) BNC Certificate of Mailing (RE: related document(s) 6 Order to File Missing Documents). Notice Date 10/18/2013. (Admin.) (Entered: 10/18/2013)
        10/18/2013 15
        (2 pgs) BNC Certificate of Mailing – Unsecured Creditors’ Comm Acc/Rej Form. (RE: related document(s) 9 Unsecured Creditors Committee Acc/Rej Form). Notice Date 10/18/2013. (Admin.) (Entered: 10/18/2013)
        10/28/2013 16
        (75 pgs; 6 docs) Adversary case 13-03233. 01 (Determination of removed claim or cause) Complaint by Joseph Connelly against Colleen Holland. Fee Amount $293. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit A # 2 Exhibit B # 3 Exhibit C # 4 Exhibit D # 5 Exhibit E) (Finestone, Stephen) (Entered: 10/28/2013)
        10/31/2013 17
        (1 pg) Payment Advices Filed by Debtor Joseph Connelly (Finestone, Stephen) (Entered: 10/31/2013)

  5. [...] March, I wrote about the sad legal dispute over VegNews magazine. Joe Connelly had filed a ridiculous lawsuit [...]

  6. Norma Wallace says:

    So sad. Thank you for your courage in providing this information.

  7. Norma Wallace says:

    As some of you may recall, I was SFVS president at the time Colleen joined and started volunteering with SFVS. She came, like manna, from heaven…for SFVS. She did amazing things for our (30th?) anniversary party, and I knew she was destined for bigger and better. She was always charming, authentic, intelligent and gentle. And had great marketing chops.

    There was discussion when “VEGNEWS” came on the scene as Dixie Mahy pointed out she had used this term for the SFVS newsletter early on, Dixie having created the SFVS newsletter. The decision was not to make a fuss but to hope that VegNews was successful.

    So, JOE CONNOLLY, the whole thing was never just for you, about you, or because of you. You came to town after Colleen had started the groundwork for the business. We know. We Were All There.

    Ethical lives are not measured by how one acts in public. The most ethical dilemmas and resolutions are, or should take place in, private. Ethically. And yes, I have been through a “split” with financial issues, so I know from whence I speak.

    How can I help our dear Colleen?

  8. Rev G says:

    I have filed a BBB complaint against the magazine for failure to deliver issues to subscriber base, and failure to contact subscriber base to let them know the status of their subscriptions. I have asked for a refund, an apology from Joe to the subscriber base and for the magazine to be ordered to address the issue of the status of the magazine in terms of publication for subscribers on the VegNews website. It is wrong to leave subscribers wondering where their issues are and if they have been ripped off. I have also cancelled my subscription. I will not support a magazine that has seemingly been usurped by a woman bullying tyrant.

    It is my sincere hope that this mag can make a comeback under the RIGHT circumstances, without all of this petty personal drama. (Which from what is can gather via the net has been completely the responsibility of Mr Connelly). Until then, I want nothing of it.

    This entire situation makes me so sad. So many people not involved in this personal relationship negatively affected…

  9. Harvey Wallbanger says:

    Have you seen the PR fail Joseph is having on the Vegnews Facebook page? He posted an image of himself holding magazine issues, and asking readers to call, write, and email people involved in “holding the summer issue hostage.”

    He even posted Colleen’s private phone number and home address.

    Needless to say, the commenters are having a field day with him, and his responses are not up to snuff.

  10. ja says:

    yes, i believe whatever he was trying to do there backfired spectacularly.

    will try to call out there again today to cancel my sub and request a refund; i don’t think for one minute i’ll get it but when Joe posts “While I am working with my attorneys…to get this matter resolved…it will take time and could cost tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees…” bells and whistles go off in my head and i think, “not with MY dollars, you won’t.”

  11. ja says:

    holy cow, and now he’s put it on the splash page of !

    • michele says:

      I don’t see, must have come down

      • ja says:

        based on the (increasingly irate) comments on FB, it seems to be hit or miss whether you get it. some of the links on FB are apparently pointing to it. at the risk of giving him anymore publicity, he seems to have snagged liberatevegnews(dot)com as well.

        i’ve worked in law firms for 30 years; joe’s lawyers REALLY need to tell him to shut up on this. “if you find yourself in a hole–stop digging.”

  12. I presume I better retain a lawyer. I am taking into consideration declaring chapter 13 bankruptcy and unfortunately I believed I would do some research. It is all so overwelming. Thank you for the details given on Kovalcik

  13. LC General says:

    For what it’s worth (nothing, perhaps?!): I recall VegNews (the newspaper) came to BigTop Newsstand Services/Independent Press Assoc. to gain national distribution. Being a vegetarian myself, I thought it was an awesome publication but not quite ready for prime time. I gave some general guidelines of basic needs to be a nationally distributed magazine. The newspaper format was not an ideal way to gain magazine newsstand distribution, and I advised for ramping up to be a nationally distributed publication, changing to a standard magazine format (the editorial was good, but the format was bad) seeing that it really could gain some national grip. I advised they go to a magazine style format–that’s what we dealt with–and when they did, let us know when they had a couple of issues under their belt, and we were definitely interested in representing them as a national magazine. I remember excitedly mentioning to a fellow publisher that there was this great vegan/vegetarian publication with potential to really stride in. They noted how VegNews profiled Whole Foods, union busters and with an eye towards “being the Wal-Mart of organic foods market,” or some near notion of distribution domination. Anyway, VegNews switched to a magazine format and was able to gain some footing. I then re-visited them, saying, “Hey, now that you are a magazine and gained some footing, let’s revisit us distributing you nationally.” Joe scoffed at me, saying to the effect, “Oh, now that we are successful, you are interested.” Well, yes, I advised you to switch format so you message would have the potential to reach more people. I was taken aback that all of the sudden I was the schemer. “Wow,” I recall feeling the blow of being distrusted, “You have misplaced your ire. Good luck.” Granted, our non-profit org in the future went on to not fulfill their financial obligations and go out of business, perhaps it was for the best. However, the mindset of what built that success seems to have overridden the history of folks who cared and gave their best efforts to really make it happen. I’m not really on either side, but I clearly recall this relationship and how, after advising going to a magazine format, Joe was unappreciative for the helpful advice and then considered us (me) sort some of parasite to VegNews’ success.

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