Britney Spears Has a New Lawyer Handling Her Conservatorship. Here's What Happens Now.

·15-min read
Photo credit: Esquire
Photo credit: Esquire

Over the past 13 years, the conservatorship of Britney Spears has been an enigma of the entertainment industry, but it wasn't until June 23, when Spears was allowed to finally address the court, that the gravity of the conservatorship came fully to light. In a shocking 23-minute speech, Spears addressed the court, speaking about the "abusive" conditions of the conservatorship, which has been overseen by her father. In the prepared statement, Spears alleged that she has been drugged, forced to work, and unable to marry and have children due to her inability to get an IUD removed.

Three weeks later, Spears' case took a turn—after 13 years, Judge Brenda Penny granted Spears the ability to choose her own representation. Spears appeared in court, determined to remove her father from the conservatorship and bring him up on conservator abuse charges. Spears chose famed Hollywood lawyer Mathew S. Rosengart as her new representation. Using the hashtag #FreeBritney in a subsequent social media post, the one-time "internet conspiracy" that the hashtag represented became an official protest used by the singer herself.

As information has slowly emerged over the past weeks and months, it appears that Spears has been privately been opposed to the conservatorship for years, seemingly confirming the hypotheses of armchair psychologists, Britney stans, and the pop-culture curious who have followed the #FreeBritney campaign over the past few years.

Spears' testimony follows an eyebrow-raising report from The New York Times alleging that Spears has expressed opposition to her father running everyday facets of her life and financial affairs. Spears was scheduled to appear on Wednesday before a relatively new judge on the case, Judge Penny. Though it's not a hearing to dismiss Jamie Spears entirely, it's a massive moment for the ongoing case, and one that suggests Spears will formally seek to end the long-term conservatorship.

Conservatorships, alleged mental illness, and personal autonomy are complex issues to unpack, so we dove in, consulted California law, and broke down the next steps of what Spears' journey looks like. The below is an explanation of conservatorships, the facts around Britney's case, and the conspiracy theories that a small but dedicated group of Britney fans have been pushing for years.

What is a Conservatorship?

A conservatorship is the term for an arrangement where a guardian makes the decisions regarding another person's financial situation and some aspects of their daily life. The reason for a conservatorship varies—sometimes, the arrangement is set up for a person experiencing dementia or other debilitating mental or physical illness.

The guardian is appointed by a judge and remains in place, typically, for a year. In most cases, conservatorships are able to be renewed annually, or dissolved if they are deemed no longer necessary. In Spears' case, the conservatorship has been in place for over a decade, and requires "her father to sign off on every major decision she makes, from business, to health, to voting and marriage," according to Newsweek. It's common in a limited or probate conservatorship for a conservator to have say in the social, romantic, and financial affairs of the conservatee. Mind you, between the two most common conservatorships—limited and LPS—limited/probate are the more lenient ones, in regard to the conservatee. Spears is currently in what is considered a probate conservatorship.

How Did Britney Spears End Up in One?

In 2007, Britney Spears had a particularly public-facing year due to an increasingly busy schedule, paparazzi, and a very public divorce from Kevin Federline. In a 2017 interview with the Israeli outlet Yediot Ahronot, Spears said, "My life was controlled by too many people and that doesn't really let you be yourself. In that situation, when you're not in control, you become less excited, and there's less passion when it comes to music."

Photo credit: Kevin Mazur - Getty Images
Photo credit: Kevin Mazur - Getty Images

In early 2008, Spears reportedly locked herself in a room with her son, resulting in her being placed in a 5150 involuntary psychiatric hold at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. In the state of California, a 5150 hold make be invoked when:

A person, as a result of a mental health disorder, is a danger to others, or to himself or herself, or gravely disabled, a peace officer [or] professional person in charge... may, upon probable cause, take, or cause to be taken, the person into custody for a period of up to 72 hours for assessment, evaluation, and crisis intervention.

She entered into another psychiatric facility later in the same month at UCLA. During this period, Spears' father, Jamie Spears, was granted an emergency temporary conservatorship, where he was signed to the agreement along with attorney Andrew Wallet. The two remained in control of Spears' conservatorship, which evolved into a standard conservatorship that has been renewed for over a decade. The long-term nature of Spears' conservatorship is uncommon, at least in regard to arrangements we've heard about involving high-profile celebrities. Conservatorships can last as long as the court holds it up as necessary. Some are renewed all the way through the conservatee's death.

What Has Happened Since?

Spears never really took any time away from the spotlight. Even in the midst of her most vulnerable period in 2008, Spears guest appeared on How I Met Your Mother. By the end of the year, she had released her sixth studio album, Circus. In the decade since, she has released three more albums, completed a Vegas residency, embarked on four tours, and sat as a judge on X Factor.

Photo credit: Gregg DeGuire - Getty Images
Photo credit: Gregg DeGuire - Getty Images

As for legal matters, the the state of the Spears camp has been complex. In 2009, Spears and her father obtained a restraining order against former manager Sam Lutfi and others, alleging that all parties were attempting to gain control of Spears' estate, which remained in the control of Spears' father and Wallet. That relationship has continued to be strained—in 2019, Spears was granted a five-year restraining order that continues to limit the interaction that Lufti can have with her.

As for the conservatorship, the controlling parties have changed over the years. In 2012, Spears' long-term boyfriend Jason Trawick proposed to her. He was added as a co-conservator until 2013, when the couple dissolved their engagement. Wallet and Jamie Spears remained the sole conservators until 2019, when Wallet resigned as Spears' attorney, removing himself from the conservatorship, adding in court, "Substantial detriment, irreparable harm and immediate danger will result to the conservatee and her estate if the relief requested herein is not granted on an ex parte basis." The cryptic explanation alluding to potential harm and danger, paired with Wallet's abrupt removal from the conservatorship made the ongoing arrangement more complex. Soon after, Spears' father also stepped down from conservatorship after a personal health emergency. He, temporarily, has named a third party, Jodi Montgomery, as Spears' day-to-day conservator.

Photo credit: Ethan Miller - Getty Images
Photo credit: Ethan Miller - Getty Images

In the midst of this, Spears checked into a mental rehabilitation facility at the beginning of April 2019. This followed health issues with her father, as well as the cancelation of her second Vegas residency, earlier in January. A popular fan podcast, Britney's Gram, released a special "emergency episode", airing claims that Spears was being held against her will. In late April 2019, Spears went on her Instagram to dispel rumors, noting that death threats had been made against her family after the alleged forced-facility visit. She added that "all is well."

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Montgomery remained in the position of sole conservator until August 22, when the conservatorship was able to be renewed for another year.

What is the #FreeBritney Campaign?

The phrase "Free Britney" appears to have originated on the fan site in 2009, when fans began to speculate about Spears' arrangement and whether or not a conservatorship was necessary.

The online campaign has mostly consisted of fans arguing that Spears is not only capable of making decisions but also legally locked out of the ability to do so. The campaign has even resulted in multiple protests in West Hollywood, with supporters demanding Spears be released from the conservatorship. Physical protests are often planned for hearing dates. Spears has indicated that her issue with the conservatorship has more to do with the conservator and less the arrangement, itself. Spears is now petitioning that her father does not return to the role of conservator, instead allowing Montgomery remain in that position, controlling her affairs and finances.

Her 25 million followers are obsessed with potential coded messages communicated through colors and flowers, the bizarre story of how she burned down her gym with workout candles, and the videos with shoutouts "at the LGBTQ community." It's as bizarre as it is worrisome. Buried within the comments of Spears' posts are pleas to help Britney Spears escape her own life—a reference to the private, yet highly reported on conservatorship her father has held over her finances and well-being since 2008.

In 2020, Spears' Instagram was the flashpoint for the #FreeBritney campaign. Buried in the comments, fans request that if she "needs help," she should do specifics things like post a dove or wear a yellow shirt. Soon after, Spears seemingly fulfilled the requests in oddly specific ways, fueling speculation from close followers.

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At the conclusion of the July 14, 2021 hearing, Spears adopted the hashtag and used it in a post on Instagram, celebrating the legal win of choosing her own representation. It was the first documented use of Spears using the hashtag that has fueled the public movement for the past couple years.

Where is the Case Currently?

The Los Angeles Times reported on Tuesday, August 18, 2020 that Spears' attorney, Samuel D. Ingham III, wrote in court documents, “We are now at a point where the conservatorship must be changed substantially in order to reflect the major changes in her current lifestyle and her stated wishes." The paper added, "The 38-year-old entertainer is 'strongly opposed' to having her father return as what the court calls a 'conservator of her person' and 'strongly prefers' that Montgomery continue in that role before her appointment expires on Aug. 22."

Photo credit: Frazer Harrison - Getty Images
Photo credit: Frazer Harrison - Getty Images

In reporting from People, court documents state that part of Spears' request comes from not wanting to perform anymore—she specifically doesn't want to continue with her Vegas residency. In the documents, Spears says the conservatorship "rescued her from a collapse, exploitation by predatory individuals and financial ruin."

According to a report by TMZ, Spears spoke out against her father in May 2019, during a court hearing. Speaking to USA Today, a legal expert noted that if Spears wanted to reverse the conservatorship, she could request to do so and a medical professional would assess whether or not she is capable of making decisions.

Ultimately, the decision to absolve Jamie Spears as conservator was not granted, meaning that he would continue to be in charge of her day to day activities. Issues continued to arise, including but not limited to the exorbitant legal fees that Spears was paying, both for her legal representation and her father'sThe New York Times reports that one bill, including media strategizing for Jamie and defense of the conservatorship, neared a million dollars. However, in November of 2020, Judge Brenda Penny did allow for the financial aspects of Spears' life to be separated from the original conservatorship, with Bessemer Trust coming in as a third party to manage financial interests. In February of 2021, Jamie Spears formally objected to that ruling but his objections were ultimately overruled.

In April, Spears' legal team made an arrangement with the court, asking that Spears be given the opportunity to address the conservatorship herself. The court settled on the date of June 23 so that she may be able to do so. This date comes on the heels of The New York Times report mentioned earlier, citing that Spears has privately been against the conservatorship for years. In the confidential filings, the Times reported that the conservatorship has controlled everything from who Spears "dated to the color of her kitchen cabinets."

The Times also stated that a representative spoke on behalf of Spears, adding that she questioned the fitness of her father to be conservator, citing his drinking and adding that she feared him. Earlier this year, in a quote to People, Jamie Spears' lawyer said, "Any time Britney wants to end her conservatorship, she can ask her lawyer to file a petition to terminate it; she has always had this right but in 13 years has never exercised it... Britney knows that her Daddy loves her, and that he will be there for her whenever and if she needs him, just as he always has been—conservatorship or not.”

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At the June 23 hearing, Spears spoke from a prepared statement for about 23 minutes, alleging abuse and forced drug use, along with several other damning accusations against her father. In regard to her forced use of Lithium, she states, "It's a strong drug. You can go mentally impaired if you stay on it longer than 5 months. I felt drunk, I couldn't even have a conversation with my mom or dad about anything. They had me with six different nurses.

She also alleged that her family has done nothing to reverse or stop Jamie's mandates. She suggested that the reason she has not filed a petition to end her conservatorship is because she did not know that she had the right to do so and that, ultimately, she did not believe that anyone else would believe her. By the end of the speech, she asked for new council, an end to the conservatorship without undergoing medical testing, and for her comments to be made public.

A week after Spears' testimony, Judge Penny issued the decision that Jamie would not be taken off the conservatorship and that Bessemer Trust would continue on as the financial manager of Spears' estate, while Jamie would manage her day to day. At this point, Spears allegedly has the opportunity to change council or seek to terminate the conservatorship completely.

In the weeks after her June testimony, a growing list of personnel involved in Spears' life has resigned. Bessemer Trust, which was set to begin managing Spears' financial affairs, asked to be removed from its duties in the conservatorship. Her longterm manager, Larry Rudolph, also resigned as Spears' manager in a letter to Jamie. He stated, "It has been over 2 1/2 years since Britney and I last communicated, at which time she informed me she wanted to take an indefinite work hiatus. Earlier today, I became aware that Britney had been voicing her intention to officially retire."

Perhaps most surprisingly, Sam Ingram III, the long-time court-appointed attorney to Spears, has asked to be removed from the cast after 13 years. Court documents only state that Ingram's reason was that "appointment of (new) counsel to represent the conservatee is necessary to protect her interests." In the meantime, a slew of celebrities came forward advocating for Spears' autonomy, or at least the ability to hire a lawyer and advocate for it herself. The chorus of supporters who have joined the #FreeBritney movement is expansive, ranging from pop star contemporaries to politicians from both sides of the aisle.

On July 14, 2021, Spears appeared in court again and was granted the ability to choose her own representation. Alongside her was Mathew S. Rosengart, a former federal prosecutor, that she has chosen to represent her moving forward. Additionally, Spears suggested she wanted to move forward with potential charges of conservatorship abuse from her father, Jamie, adding, "I'm here to get rid of my dad and charge him with conservatorship abuse." Following the day in court, Spears posted to Instagram, thanking fans for their support and using the #FreeBritney hashtag for the first time.

What Has Her Family Done and Said About the Situation?

Outside of Jamie's extensive involvement in the conservatorship, the family has spoken out multiple times over the years in regard to the arrangement. Most recently, Spears' mother, Lynn, has requested to be included more closely in the conservatorship. Sister Jamie Lynn has spoken out in support for Britney's well-being multiple times throughout the years. Last year, she posted on social media in defense of the measures the family has taken, lashing out against fans who questioned Spears' safety.

Photo credit: Image Group LA - Getty Images
Photo credit: Image Group LA - Getty Images

The day before a July 22, 2020 hearing, Jamie Lynn posted to Instagram speaking out about the difficulty of managing loved ones with mental illness after Kanye West exhibited erratic behavior on Twitter earlier in the week. When a commenter chimed in to comment on Spears' "obvious" mental illness, Jamie Lynn responded, saying, "You have no right to assume anything about my sister. And I have no right to speak about HER health and personal matters. She is a strong, badass, unstoppable woman, and that’s the only thing that is OBVIOUS.”

In the wake of Spears' revelatory June 2021 testimony, Spears' father, Jamie, and sister, Jamie Lynn, have both issued statements, with Jamie stating that he has worked to protect his daughter, insisting that an investigation be opened to up verify if his daughter's claims are true. Jamie Lynn's statement came after an onslaught of fans accused her of aiding her father with issues Spears brought up. She stated, "I’m so proud of [Britney] for using her voice. I am so proud of her for requesting new counsel, like I told her to do many years ago. Oh, not on a big public platform, but just in a personal conversation between two sisters.”

The next phase in Spears' conservatorship will likely be a petition that she and Rosengart will file to officially end the conservatorship, or have Spears' father removed as conservator. And from Spears' statement on July 14, it's likely that she will attempt to move forward on charges of conservatorship abuse.

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