Editorial: Distenfields’ latest drama puts police in tight spot
We’ll confess to having been quite skeptical when Ira Distenfield, a man who has spent time in jail under a court’s order, and his wife Linda teamed up with the Santa Barbara Police Department for a reality show.
However, we were not surprised in the least to see the show, called “On Patrol with Santa Barbara PD,” come to a screeching halt amid a blaze of litigation.
After all, reporting in the Business Times and other media has demonstrated that the Distenfields have a history of getting involved in high-profile ventures that end in a flurry of litigation. Typically, as is the case with “On Patrol,” the litigation involves questions of who owes how much to whom.
The “On Patrol” conflict, which is quickly becoming its own reality show, revolved around the Distenfields’ claim, in a legal filing with the city, that they are owed more than $1 million in damages now that the Santa Barbara Police have canceled the show.
For its part, the Santa Barbara Police Department has been telling anybody who wanted to listen that it had no choice but to not renew the show after the Distenfields failed to live up to their agreement to pay the city $1,000 per episode, plus a bonus for syndication.
Is there a pattern here? As the Business Times reported in February 2010, the sale of the Distenfields high-profile venture, a legal document company called We the People, resulted in more than a dozen lawsuits that sent the Distenfields to bankruptcy court with some $5 million in debts. Ira Distenfield said he sold We the People to “the wrong people.”
A later venture called the PR Store drew the attention of the California Department of Corporations, which levied a fine of $5,000 on Ira Distenfield for making unsubstantiated claims about projected franchise revenue. (Distenfield later resolved the complaint.)
The Distenfields are clever marketers and they have a ton of creativity. But they have proven to be unreliable business partners and, for people who purport to specialize in public relations, they appear to have no idea how their effort to get money from the city of Santa Barbara might damage the reputation of the police, an organization they’re trying to promote.
In the interest of the city, the police and the Distenfields, we’d like to see this dispute resolved quickly. We’re afraid that given Linda and Ira’s gift for prolonged litigation, it won’t turn out that way.