Britney Spears can select her own attorney for her conservatorship case, a judge ruled on Wednesday during an emotional hearing in which the singer broke down and pleaded for her father to be removed from the case.
“I’m here to get rid of my dad and charge him with conservatorship abuse,” the singer said in a court hearing in Los Angeles, adding that she wanted an investigation into her father, Jamie Spears, and a restraining order issued against him. “I was always extremely scared of my dad.”
The hearing came less than a month after Spears spoke in court and called for an end to the controversial arrangement that has has controlled her life for 13 years, giving her father and others authority over her personal life and career. Mathew S Rosengart, a powerful Hollywood attorney who attended the hearing, will now be representing Spears. It marked the first time she has been able to select her own lawyer in the case, a move that could accelerate her push to get out of the conservatorship.
Speaking over the phone to a room packed with dozens of reporters and fans, Spears delivered a series of new shocking grievances, alleging her hair vitamins and coffee had been taken from her.
“Ma’am, that’s not abuse, that’s just fucking cruelty,” a tearful Spears told judge Brenda Penny. “Excuse my language but it’s the truth.” She added, “They were always trying to make me feel like I’m crazy, which I’m not.” She reiterated that she was forced to take medications against her will, saying, “I think they were trying to kill me.”
The singer said she wanted the complex legal arrangement terminated without facing an evaluation, but indicated her top priority was ousting her father from his role, and saying she would be OK with Jodi Montgomery, the licensed conservator who oversees her healthcare, to remain in place.
She said: “My dad needs to be removed today and I will be happy with Jodi helping me … I’m not willing to sit with anyone to be evaluated.”
Spears also said her father took away her driver’s license for eight months and started crying when she recounted his intense control over her.
Spears’s case has faced renewed scrutiny following her impassioned testimony last month, during which the singer said the conservatorship had been “abusive” and for the first time publicly called for the termination of the legal arrangement.
The speech caused an upheaval in her case, which for years has been largely shrouded in secrecy. Her controversial court-appointed lawyer, Samuel D Ingham, has asked to resign; the wealth management firm, Bessemer Trust, has withdrawn from overseeing her estate; her longtime manager stepped down; her father, Jamie Spears, has asked the court to investigate her allegations; and lawyers involved in the case have feuded in court filings. The judge approved the withdrawal of Ingham and Bessemer Trust on Wednesday.
Rosengart, her new lawyer, implored Jamie Spears to step down immediately, saying, “There’s a real question as to why Mr Spears does not voluntarily step aside today. Today. Does anybody really believe that Mr Spears’s involvement in the case is in the best interest of Ms Spears?” He said he would be filing a petition to call for his removal: “If he loves his daughter, it is time to step aside, so she can move forward.”
Vivian Thoreen, Jamie Spears’s lawyer, defended her client’s record, saying, “Mr Spears has been involved since day one. He has been there for his daughter 24-7 … He loves his daughter and only wants the best for her.” She questioned the veracity of his daughter’s claims, saying, “Many of her characterizations or memories are just incorrect.” She added that her father would not be voluntarily resigning.
Thoreen also cast blame on Montgomery, the personal conservator, claiming that Jamie Spears does not control the singer’s daily activities or medical care.
Lauriann Wright, a lawyer for Montgomery, countered that Jamie Spears controls his daughter’s money and has to approve expenses. After the singer’s emotional testimony, Wright said the comments were “heartbreaking to hear” adding in a message to Spears, “We’re here to help, OK?” She said the long-term goal was to end the conservatorship.
A lawyer for Spears’s mother, Lynne Spears, lamented the fighting between lawyers, saying it was “lawyers gone wild” and that the “system is broken”. At the end of the hearing, the judge implored the parties to focus on the singer’s wellbeing and not their conflicts, saying, “Everyone should be working collaboratively.”
By early afternoon, fans and protesters calling for an end to the conservatorship had rallied outside the courthouse.
Advocates hope the hiring of Rosengart will be a turning point in the case, allowing Spears to properly advocate for herself.
Ingham, the court lawyer, had been assigned to her when she was first placed in a conservatorship in 2008 and deemed incapable of hiring her own lawyer. But recent investigations have raised questions about the fraught process that led to an indefinite conservatorship, and fans have long advocated for the courts to restore her independence.
Ingham had faced intense scrutiny after Spears said in court that she did not know she could petition to terminate the conservatorship. Records have shown that Spears for years has strongly objected to the conservatorship, but Ingham, who has been paid millions from Spears’s estate, has never petitioned to end it.
Rosengart questioned the fundamental merits of the arrangement, suggesting Spears should not have been placed in a permanent conservatorship in 2008 and saying his law firm would be investigating the origins.
Conservatorships are typically used for elderly or infirm people who are deemed incapable of making decisions, but disability rights advocates say the process is ripe for abuse. Spears has questioned the merits of the arrangement, noting that she has continued to have a successful career while being denied basic autonomy. She also said the arrangement had forced her to work and take medications against her will, blocked her from getting married or having another child and controlled her personal relationships.
It can be a long and difficult process to end conservatorships, but experts say it would be a game changer if Spears retained her own lawyer who could aggressively fight to terminate the arrangement. Jamie Spears andMontgomery have cast blame on each other in court filings.
The flurry of resignations and in-fighting since her June testimony has given some hope to advocates with the #FreeBritney movement who have been rallying for termination for years.
“It signals that the whole thing is finally crumbling. To me, it’s the true beginning of the end,” said Megan Radford, a longtime #FreeBritney activist in an interview before the hearing. She added that it was troubling that despite her claims of mistreatment and pleas for help, she remained under control of the same people. “They are all fighting back and forth, but no one is actually doing what Britney asked to be done.”
Kevin Wu, another advocate, said he was optimistic that “her freedom is coming soon”, adding: “This is bigger than Britney. There are many people who are under abusive guardianships. The attention on her case will hopefully bring justice for many of these people.”
The American Civil Liberties Union and other disability rights groups filed an amicus brief this week in support of her right to hire her own counsel.