Judge Brenda Penny called the current state of the conservatorship “untenable,” according to the Associated Press. “It reflects a toxic environment,” she said, “which requires the suspension of James Spears.” The matter of whether Britney Spears’s conservatorship will be terminated as a whole, as legal teams for both father and daughter had requested, will be addressed later this fall. A hearing has been scheduled for Nov. 12, according to Britney Spears’s lawyer, Mathew Rosengart.
Spears has been under a conservatorship since early 2008, when a series of highly publicized episodes of erratic behavior during her divorce the year before culminated with an involuntary psychiatric hold. Her father has served as a conservator since then, though different co-conservators have come and gone in the meantime. (Spears’s onetime fiance, Jason Trawick, was briefly a co-conservator, as were a lawyer named Andrew M. Wallet and a bank called Bessemer Trust; a professional fiduciary named Jodi Montgomery began acting as an interim conservator in 2019 when Jamie Spears stepped back because of health issues.)
In late June, Britney Spears expressed to the court that she wished to terminate the conservatorship entirely; Rosengart filed an official petition to remove her father as conservator a month later. In response, Jamie Spears and his lawyers initially filed a document with the court agreeing to step down “when the time is right.”
On Sept. 7, however, many were surprised when Spears himself filed a petition to end the conservatorship, on the grounds that he had always wanted what was best for his daughter and now wished to comply with her desire to terminate it. “As Mr. Spears has said again and again, all he wants is what is best for his daughter,” the filing read. “If Ms. Spears wants to terminate the conservatorship and believes that she can handle her own life, Mr. Spears believes that she should get that chance.” However, while he agreed to step down, the filing noted that “there are, in fact, no actual grounds for suspending or removing Mr. Spears as the Conservator of the Estate.”
In response, Rosengart issued a statement to the media: “To the extent Mr. Spears believes he can try to avoid accountability and justice, including sitting for a sworn deposition and answering other discovery under oath, he is incorrect and our investigation into financial mismanagement and other issues will continue.” On Wednesday in court, Britney Spears’s legal team argued against immediate termination of the conservatorship along similar lines of reasoning: Immediate termination could hinder a potential investigation into the conditions of the conservatorship. (In a court filing last week, the father’s lawyers noted that “granting the Petition For Termination would render some of the other pending matters moot.”)
Conservatorships are somewhat rare in the United States, and the arrangement itself involves putting a vulnerable adult (such as someone who is senile or severely developmentally disabled) under the authority of another adult, usually to protect the vulnerable adult from being taken advantage of. The arrangement — which can be severely restricting on the vulnerable adult, in that they usually surrender their financial decisions, medical decisions and day-to-day schedule to the conservator — is usually only applied in cases where the vulnerable adult is unable to feed, clothe or house themselves.
It’s rare for a conservatee to, say, have a job, which is one reason the Spears conservatorship has seemed strange to so many: In the years since her conservatorship was established, Spears has released several albums and performed multiple tours in the United States and abroad.
This year has seen a flurry of public interest in the Spears family and this conservatorship, starting with a New York Times documentary released in February titled “Framing Britney Spears.” A number of other documentaries, as well as rallies organized by #FreeBritney — a grass-roots movement formed online that aims to spread awareness of Spears’s unusual situation and pressure the court to release her from the arrangement — have added to the public’s interest in the ongoing saga.
The media attention around the Spears family may have contributed to Spears’s decision to take the rare move of addressing the court herself over the summer. In a lengthy statement to the court, Spears offered new, harrowing details of conditions she called “abusive”: She described being given prescription drugs against her will, forbidden to drive a car by herself or ride in a car with her boyfriend, forced to go to therapy multiple times per week in a place where paparazzi and the public could easily see her coming and going, and disallowed from having her birth-control device removed despite her hopes to have another baby. Spears ultimately asked the judge to end the conservatorship, saying she wasn’t previously aware she could petition to terminate her conservatorship at all.
Further disturbing details of a conservatorship that was long shrouded in secrecy emerged in several documentaries released in the past week. In “Controlling Britney Spears,” the Times follow-up to the February film, a former employee of a security company employed by Jamie Spears alleges that they installed recording devices in Spears’s home and bedroom, unbeknown to her, and recorded her interactions with her family and her boyfriend.
The Netflix documentary “Britney vs. Spears” cited leaked documents that proved Spears had tried multiple times to hire her own legal representation, replacing the court-appointed lawyer assigned to her, and been denied permission. The same documentary alleged that from its establishment, the conservatorship gave Jamie Spears the power to: issue restraining orders and hire security; use his daughter’s money to pay for legal fees; enter and take possession of her home (and exert authority over who else was there at any time); open and operate businesses; and hire for a number of positions using funds from Britney Spears’s estate. In 2009, the conservatorship became permanent and Jamie Spears acquired even more authority: He could soon lease a car for himself using funds from her estate, cancel her credit cards as he saw fit and pursue new business opportunities on his daughter’s behalf, so long as her medical team approved them. (CNN also released a documentary over the weekend titled “Toxic: Britney Spears’ Battle For Freedom.”)
Under such heightened public scrutiny, a number of figures associated with the conservatorship have resigned in recent months. Bessemer Trust, which briefly served as a co-conservator for Britney Spears’s estate, resigned in the wake of her June 23 court hearing, on the grounds that its representatives did not know Spears herself objected to the existence of the conservatorship. Spears’s court-appointed lawyer, Samuel D. Ingham III, stepped down in July.
After denying Spears’s requests much earlier in the conservatorship to retain a lawyer of her own choosing, the court approved her July 2021 request for Ingham to be replaced by Rosengart, a former federal prosecutor. Rosengart has since aggressively pursued an end to the father’s oversight of the conservatorship and an eventual end of the arrangement entirely, arguing it’s time for Britney Spears to be free.
In a statement to The Washington Post, Rosengart wrote that the judge’s ruling Wednesday “was a monumental win for Britney, and for justice.”