A Los Angeles judge has suspended Britney Spears’s father from the conservatorship that has controlled her life for 13 years, marking a major victory for the singer, who has long objected to the arrangement that has stripped her of independence.
At a court hearing on Wednesday, Judge Brenda Penny ordered Jamie Spears suspended as conservator effective immediately.
“The current situation is untenable,” Penny said after hearing contentious arguments from both sides. “It reflects a toxic environment which requires the suspension of James Spears.”
She scheduled a hearing for 12 November to discuss the complete termination of the conservatorship, which it appears all parties now support.
Mathew Rosengart, Britney Spears’s attorney, had pushed for her father to be removed immediately before any other actions were taken, saying it was necessary for the singer’s wellbeing. Spears was not present at Wednesday’s hearing.
“The conservatorship can and should be wound up and terminated promptly – ideally this fall … Britney Spears deserves to have her father out of her life as a conservator, today,” Rosengart said.
The decision comes three months after the pop star first publicly pleaded for her father to be removed, alleging that he had been abusive and saying: “He loved the control to hurt his own daughter.”
Jamie Spears has aggressively fought efforts to be removed and recently requested that the conservatorship be terminated entirely – a move that Britney Spears’s lawyer said was an effort “to avoid accountability and justice”.
Vivian Thoreen, Jamie’s attorney, strongly objected to his suspension during Wednesday’s contentious hearing, in which she cast doubts on Spears’s emotional testimony to a court in June, saying: “She wasn’t cross-examined. Nobody knows the veracity of those statements.” Thoreen argued that the conservatorship should be entirely terminated immediately so that the issue of suspension would be “moot”. The judge sided with the singer’s attorney.
The case has sparked international outrage, and state and federal lawmakers are considering major reforms to the conservatorship system. A large, fan-led #FreeBritney movement first drew public attention to the arrangement and has recently held huge rallies in support of the pop star.
Fans traveled from across the country to support Spears in LA on Wednesday, with protesters shutting down the street outside the courthouse for their rally. Supporters marched and shouted: “Hey, hey, ho, ho, the conservatorship has got to go!” and “Britney’s body, Britney’s choice!”
“Today could be life-changing for Britney,” said Martino Odeh, 27, before the hearing. “Britney means the world to us, and I know if we can help her get out of this fraudulent, tragic conservatorship, it would mean the world to her.”
Mona Montgomery, a 79-year-old retired lawyer who arrived hours before the hearing was due to start, said she was glad the public was finally learning about conservatorship abuse: “This information has been kept secret for so many decades.”
Spears has strongly objected to the conservatorship for years, records have revealed, but she spoke publicly for the first time in court in June. She called the arrangement “abusive” and alleged that her father and others controlled intimate details of her personal life, including her birth control, and had forced her to work against her will.
A recent New York Times documentary also alleged that Jamie Spears had hired a security firm that was secretly surveilling his daughter’s phone, recording her conversations in her bedroom and monitoring fans who protested to end the conservatorship.
Conservatorship is a type of court-appointed guardianship intended for people who can no longer make decisions for themselves, typically older and infirm people. But critics have argued that the process can be exploited and have pointed to Spears’s case as an example of such abuse.
Spears was placed in the arrangement in 2008 while facing apparent mental health struggles amid intense paparazzi abuse and media scrutiny. The arrangement gave her father control over her finances and healthcare, even though reporting has suggested he was largely absent from her life before the conservatorship.
At the Wednesday hearing, Rosengart said Jamie’s removal was the first step toward ending a “Kafka-esque nightmare” for his client, adding that she “has been abused by this man not only for the past decade, but since her childhood”.
Jamie stepped down as Spears’s personal conservator in 2019, but has continued to control her estate and finances. And his daughter alleged that he has continued to tightly control her life.
Jodi Montgomery, a licensed conservator, now oversees Spears’s healthcare, and she has also signaled her support for ending the conservatorship.
A certified public accountant will now take over as temporary conservator of the estate, according to Penny.
Rosengart said Thoreen, Jamie Spears’s lawyer, was fighting his suspension because Jamie did not want to have to hand over documents or face a deposition under oath: “What he’s afraid of is the revelation of his corruption.” He said that Jamie had “reaped millions of dollars” from her estate, paying himself more per month than his daughter was given as an allowance.
Rosengart also addressed the surveillance allegations from the documentary: “Mr Spears and his representatives did something unfathomable, unfathomable – they eavesdropped on some of the most intimate communications of my client.” He noted that the security team allegedly spied on conversations with her children, boyfriend and previous lawyer. He said that law enforcement would determine whether any criminal conduct occurred.
Black Box, the security firm hired by her father, has responded that its operations are ethical and legal.
Thoreen did not directly deny the allegations of surveillance and bugging Spears’s bedroom but rejected the “rhetoric” of the “television show”. Thoreen suggested she may seek to challenge the judge’s ruling to suspend Jamie, though the judge later said it was not an “appealable” order.
After the three-hour hearing, Rosengart emerged from court to a large crowd of supporters celebrating the ruling.
“This means the world to everyone here,” said Alex Lebron, 30. “This means Britney can be free to be who she wants to be, whether that’s singing or not.”
Nelson Saavedra, 27, who flew in from Boston and arrived at the courthouse at 7.30am so he could get a seat in the room, choked up as he reflected on Jamie’s suspension: “This is something that I’ve been looking toward since 2008, since I was 14 years old … This is the start of justice being served for this situation that should have never happened.”
If the judge approves full termination in November, he added, “She will finally have full freedom and autonomy. I want her to do whatever she wants to do now.”
Another #FreeBritney supporter, Santiago Escartin, 32, said the fight wasn’t over yet but that fans were feeling hopeful: “There are many questions to still be answered, but it definitely looks like brighter days ahead for Britney.”
From The Guardian