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