Britney Spears Conservatorship: 5 things that may happen next
Britney Spears Conservatorship: 5 things that may happen next
Three weeks ago, in an impassioned speech before a Los Angeles judge, Britney Spears denounced the conservatorship that has long controlled her life as abusive. Now the case is set to return to the courtroom Wednesday, and there is much to unpack
By Julia Jacobs and Joe Coscarelli
Published: Jul 14, 2021
People protest in support of pop star Britney Spears on the day of a conservatorship case hearing at Stanley Mosk Courthouse in Los Angeles, California, U.S. June 23, 2021. Image: Mario Anzuoni / Reuters
Three weeks after Britney Spears denounced the conservatorship that has long controlled her life as abusive in an impassioned speech before a Los Angeles judge, the case is set to return to the courtroom Wednesday.
There is much to discuss.
Since the June 23 hearing, there has been a flurry of court filings by those involved in managing the conservatorship that oversees both her and her estate. The singer’s father, James Spears, who has controlled his daughter’s finances since 2008, has called for an investigation into Spears’ many claims and, according to rival lawyers, sought to deflect blame for her complaints onto others. Jodi Montgomery, a professional conservator who took over Spears’ personal care from her father in 2019, has pushed the blame right back.
And several players, including Spears’ longtime court-appointed lawyer, have expressed their wishes to end their involvement in the case as she seeks to hire a top-tier firm that could help in her push to end the arrangement altogether.
The hearing is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. PDT in Los Angeles.
Here are five issues that might be addressed.
1. Will the court investigate Spears’ account?
Days after Spears told the court that she had been abused under her conservatorship — saying that she was forced to take mood-stabilizing drugs and was prevented from removing her birth control device, placing the blame for her treatment on her management team, caretakers and family — her father called for an investigation.
James Spears has been the key player in the arrangement from the beginning. In 2008, he filed to gain control of the singer’s business and personal affairs amid concerns about her mental health and potential substance abuse. In her speech, Spears described her father as someone who had approval over everything in her life, saying, “he loved the control.”
In court filings, James Spears’ lawyers requested an evidentiary hearing into his daughter’s account, writing, “it is critical that the Court confirm whether or not Ms. Spears’ testimony was accurate in order to determine what corrective actions, if any, need to be taken.”
They also attempted to distance James Spears from questions about her well-being, arguing that he was “simply not involved in any decisions related to Spears’s personal care or medical or reproductive issues” after late 2019, and had been cut off from communicating with her.
Lawyers for Montgomery, whose purview includes Spears’ mental health care, responded forcefully, calling James Spears’ request “procedurally defective” and “wholly improper,” as well as a “thinly veiled attempt to clear his name.”
The lawyers said that any questions about Montgomery’s tenure as conservator would be addressed in a “comprehensive Care Plan” they were preparing with the singer’s medical team, which would “also offer Ms. Spears a path to ending her Conservatorship of the Person, as she so unequivocally desires.”
But if there was to be an investigation, Montgomery asked that it wait until Spears has a lawyer who will “fully represent her interests.”
2. Who will represent Spears moving forward?
In her speech, Spears raised questions about whether her court-appointed lawyer for the past 13 years, Samuel D. Ingham III, had done enough to educate and support her. In a particularly shocking claim, Spears said that she did not know that it was possible for her to petition to terminate the conservatorship.
Last week, Ingham asked the court to step down from his role, a request that is subject to approval from the judge overseeing the case, Brenda Penny. A law firm that Ingham had recently brought on to assist him, Loeb & Loeb, also submitted a resignation letter.
In 2008, Ingham was appointed by the court after Spears, who was hospitalized at the time, was determined by a different judge to be incapable of hiring her own lawyer. The court could make the same determination now, or allow Spears to choose her own counsel.
A lawyer for the singer’s mother, Lynne Spears, who is an interested party in the conservatorship, has also asked the court to allow the singer to choose her own lawyer, arguing that her daughter should not be held to a decision made in 2008: “Her capacity is certainly different today.” The American Civil Liberties Union on Monday filed an amicus brief in support of the court’s allowing Spears to choose her next lawyer herself, potentially alongside trusted, neutral advisers.
Mathew S. Rosengart, a prominent Hollywood lawyer and former federal prosecutor, plans to attend the hearing to begin the process of taking over as Spears’ counsel, according to a person briefed on the matter. He would take a more aggressive approach and push for the conservatorship to end, the person said.
Montgomery filed her own request for the court to appoint a guardian ad litem who would be assigned solely to help Spears choose a new lawyer. The filing stated that Spears had been “repeatedly and consistently” asking for Montgomery’s assistance in finding one.
3. Who will be in charge of Spears’ finances?
Spears’ fortune, which is now estimated near $60 million, has been controlled by her father (sometimes alongside a co-conservator) for the entirety of the conservatorship; a wealth management firm, Bessemer Trust, was appointed as a co-conservator last year after Spears requested that her father be removed from the role.
About a week after the June 23 hearing, Bessemer Trust requested to resign from the arrangement, according to court documents, citing Spears’ criticisms of the arrangement. Once the firm became aware of Spears’ wish to terminate the conservatorship, the filing said, Bessemer no longer wished to be involved.
The question for Penny will be whether James Spears will be allowed to remain as the sole conservator of Spears’ estate, despite both a formal request from her lawyer and now an emotional plea that he be removed.
4. Should Spears’ conservator be granted security?
Since Spears’ speech, there has been a “marked increase in the number and severity of threatening posts” about Montgomery on social media, as well as other communications threatening violence or death against her, she said in a court filing.
As a result, Montgomery has asked the court to require Spears’ estate to pay for her security, if James Spears approves. A court filing on her behalf said that Montgomery sent the threats to the security company that James Spears used, and it recommended that she retain 24/7 protection.
James Spears has objected to that arrangement. In his own court filing, lawyers asserted that Montgomery’s security services would exceed $50,000 per month for an indefinite period — an expense he called unreasonable. He also argued that such payments would set a standard in which Britney Spears would need to cover security costs for anyone receiving threats as a result of the high-profile case.
5. Is a request to end the conservatorship on the way?
The legal machinations that have followed the June 23 hearing all lead to the same question: Will Spears formally appeal to terminate the conservatorship?
It was possible for the request to have been made come within days of Spears’ address to the court, but her court-appointed lawyer’s resignation complicated matters.
If the judge deems the singer capable of picking her new lawyer, the petition could be filed soon after that person is approved by the judge. Then, it is possible that someone else representing the conservatorship — most likely Spears’ father — could object to the termination, triggering a trial before the judge makes a final decision.
In her remarks in court, Spears repeatedly said that she wanted to terminate the conservatorship without additional psychological evaluations, which she had found invasive over the years. But that may be an uphill battle, especially if one of Spears’ conservators opposes ending the arrangement.