A request by the pop singer Britney Spears to substantially change the setup of the court-approved conservatorship she has lived under for 12 years will not be decided on until February, a California judge said this week amid a flurry of filings by Spears and her family.
Spears, 38, remains one of the most beloved and best-selling stars of the modern era, but has had her life and finances carefully controlled by a complex and largely private legal arrangement — one typically used for the old, infirm or disabled — since 2008, following her much-publicized struggles with mental heath issues and substance abuse.
For more than a decade, Spears’s father, James P. Spears, known as Jamie, has overseen much of the singer’s career and personal life as conservator of her person and estate, though he stepped down last year, citing health problems. Spears, through her court-appointed lawyer, Samuel D. Ingham III, said this week that she was “strongly opposed” to having her father return to his role as her conservator, indicating that she was willing to fight him in court.
Ingham said that Spears preferred to keep her temporary conservator, Jodi Montgomery, in the role overseeing her mental health care and more, and requested that a bank be in charge of her estate. To justify the changes, the lawyer pointed to Spears’s desire to no longer perform for the time being, and left open the possibility that she would “seek termination of this conservatorship in the future.”
At the same time, Jamie Spears, through his own lawyers, sought to bring back his former co-conservator of Spears’s estate, Andrew M. Wallet, who voluntarily resigned from his role in March 2019, after more than a decade in the job.
Following a hearing on Wednesday, Judge Brenda Penny of the Los Angeles County Superior Court in California extended the current version of the conservatorship until Feb. 1. She called for Ingham to file his petition on behalf of Spears by Sept. 18, with any objections filed by Oct. 2. A hearing was scheduled in the case for Oct. 14.
The recent filings, and especially Spears’s call for changes to the conservatorship, have only served to inflame the grass roots, fan-led protests known as the #FreeBritney movement, whose followers believe that the pop star is being held against her will or stolen from. (Court documents put Spears’s total assets at $57.4 million as of December 2019, including about $2.7 million in cash.)
Though the court proceedings are typically closed to the public and most records sealed, #FreeBritney supporters gathered outside the hearing in Los Angeles on Wednesday, and were heartened when Ingham told the judge that he found the blanket seal and closed courtroom to be occasionally unwarranted, calling for perhaps more transparency in the future.
Jamie Spears has dismissed the #FreeBritney advocates as conspiracy theorists, and in additional filings this week, sought to seal future pleadings, citing the privacy of his daughter and her two children. “Such information would undoubtedly fuel widespread publicity and the ability to obtain access to her or her children, as evidenced by the publicity surrounding this conservatorship since its inception and numerous instances of harassment,” his lawyer said. “That publicity would be highly injurious to the Conservatee’s health and well-being, as well as the health and well-being of her minor children.”
The ACLU indicated this week that it would back the performer if she requested help. “People with disabilities have a right to lead self-directed lives and retain their civil rights,” the organization said in a tweet. “If Britney Spears wants to regain her civil liberties and get out of her conservatorship, we are here to help her.”