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Joe Cole’s Role in The Indy Lawsuit


FROM NEWS-PRESS TO INDY: How times have changed in the world of Santa Barbara newspapers.

In 2006, lawyer Joe Cole was president and publisher of the Santa Barbara News-Press — a solid business head, savvy about journalism, and considered a buffer between owner Wendy McCaw and the newsroom. Soon after he left that year, news staff conflicts with McCaw boiled over and resulted in a meltdown that shocked the town.

Barney Brantingham

Cole is now the financial backer of Marianne Partridge, editor-in-chief of The Santa Barbara Independent. This paper, which prints 40,000 copies weekly, is now the subject of a nasty lawsuit between Partridge and publisher Randy Campbell, who have been uneasy partners for the last quarter century.

The lawsuit revolves around Campbell’s notice last fall to The Indy and to his fellow shareholders that he intended to sell his majority 51-percent shares to Southland Publishing, which is the owner of four small Southern California weeklies and which prints The Indy through a sister company. Partridge, unwilling to yield editorial control of the paper, matched Southland’s offer under a 1986 agreement giving all shareholders the right of first refusal in case of such an offer.

Partridge was able to match the Southland deal — under the tight deadlines imposed by Campbell — because she had contacted Cole, who agreed to lend Partridge the $1.37 million. But when the day came for Campbell to pick up his $1.37 million check and hand over his shares, he didn’t show. After the first Southland deal, Campbell had come back to the shareholders with a second deal from Southland that would, in addition to giving Campbell the $1.37 million for his shares, grant Campbell a no-cut three-year employment agreement at $110,000 a year as publisher.

Partridge sued Campbell to require him to live up to his original offer to sell. She sought and won a court order restraining Campbell from selling the stock. Campbell counter-sued Partridge. The trial is set for December 2 in Santa Barbara Superior Court.

If Partridge wins, it seems probable that Campbell will not continue with The Independent. If Campbell wins, no one knows what will happen. Cole’s role, if any, is yet to be determined.

Both Campbell and Partridge declined to comment.

Cole, however, is now under attack by Campbell. Partridge’s attorney asserts that it is a late tactic to delay the December 2 day of reckoning in court. In the mid 1990s, Cole represented Campbell briefly in a transaction involving the now-defunct Ventura Independent. Campbell claims that 13 years ago, Cole discovered confidential information. Cole says he remembers virtually nothing of the mid-1990s transaction, except that it had nothing to do with his current loan to Partridge or her right-of-first-refusal agreement with Campbell.

Asked to comment, Gary Hill, attorney for Partridge, said, “It is in the best interest of the parties and the public that this be resolved at trial as soon as possible, and I hope Mr. Campbell does not attempt to delay these proceedings.”

John Rydell, Campbell’s attorney, said, “We agree that it will be in the best interest” to resolve the matter, “but sometimes new information comes up, and we need additional time to deal with it. It may well be that the trial will have to be delayed a few months.” He declined to say what the new information was, but it apparently had to do with the 1990s issue.

According to his biography, in the mid 1970s, Cole was a reporter and later editor-in-chief of the Ventura College Press, interviewing, among others, Jerry Brown while he was governor. He was also a sports reporter for the Santa Paula newspaper.

After earning an AA degree in journalism at Ventura College, Cole transferred initially to the USC School of Journalism, but earned a degree in finance, working his way through school as an Ojai firefighter, among other jobs. After graduating from UC Hastings College of the Law, he moved to Santa Barbara and practiced corporate and business law.

For 12 years, Cole served as a director of ABC-CLIO, a longtime area educational publisher. He also was an investor in and a director of a printing company in Los Angeles. At the end of 1998, Cole went to work for Ampersand, serving for more than five years as either the president or publisher of the Santa Barbara News-Press. In addition to the daily newspaper, Cole was responsible for the weekly real estate and entertainment supplements, the Goleta Valley Voice, Blue Edge surf magazine, and El Mexicano de Santa Bárbara.

RED LIGHT BUSES: Not only are cars running red lights in Santa Barbara like mad, but it looks like MTD buses may be getting the bad habit. The other day around 5 p.m., a bus blew right through a solid red light at State Street and De la Vina. “It wasn’t even close,” a witness who had the “WALK” signal told me. Luckily, she waited before venturing out.

NP AND INDY AGREE: Endorsements by The Independent and the News-Press for the November 2 election are almost mirror opposites — except in one case. Both newspapers back Proposition 19, legalization of marijuana in California.

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