Britney Spears files to remove her father from conservatorship
By Joe Coscarelli, Liz Day and Samantha Stark
More than 13 years after the life and finances of Britney Spears were put under the strict, court-approved control of her father — and a month after Spears broke her public silence on the arrangement, calling it abusive and singling him out as its ultimate authority — a new lawyer for the singer has moved to have James P. Spears removed from the unique conservatorship.
The detailed petition to oust the singer’s father, also known as Jamie, from the complex legal setup was filed in Los Angeles probate court Monday by Mathew S. Rosengart, a former federal prosecutor and high-powered Hollywood lawyer, who has worked with celebrities including Sean Penn, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Steven Spielberg.
The move, less than two weeks after Rosengart was approved as the singer’s lawyer, is framed as a first step in a broader strategy to examine the conservatorship, which the filing calls a “Kafkaesque nightmare” for Spears.
Rosengart took over as Spears’ lawyer after Samuel Ingham, the court-appointed lawyer who had represented her for the duration of the arrangement, resigned in light of the singer’s recent comments about her care. In 2008, at the outset of the conservatorship, Spears had been found to lack the mental capacity to hire her own counsel.
In the filing Monday, Rosengart cited a section of the probate code that gives the court broad discretion to remove a conservator if it “is in the best interests” of the conservatee, and pointed to Spears’ recent comments in court as evidence that her father’s role was detrimental to her well-being.
The filing added that “serious questions abound concerning Mr. Spears’ potential misconduct, including conflicts of interest, conservatorship abuse and the evident dissipation of Ms. Spears’ fortune.”
“There might well come a time when the court will be called upon to consider whether the conservatorship should be terminated in its entirety and whether — in addition to stripping his daughter of her dignity, autonomy and certain fundamental liberties — Mr. Spears is also guilty of misfeasance or malfeasance warranting the imposition of surcharges, damages or other legal action against him,” Rosengart wrote.
Lawyers for Jamie Spears did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. He has previously defended his care of, and concern for, his daughter.
In an additional filing, Rosengart requested that a certified public accountant in California, Jason Rubin, be named conservator of Britney Spears’ estate, which was listed as including cash assets of $2.7 million and noncash assets of more than $57 million.
The lawyer noted, since the court had ruled recently that Spears had the capacity to choose her own lawyer, she “likewise has sufficient capacity to make this nomination.”
In his petition to remove Jamie Spears, Rosengart added: “Any father who genuinely loves his daughter and has her best interests at heart should willingly step aside in favor of the highly respected professional fiduciary nominated here.”
The petition was supported by Britney Spears’ current personal conservator, Jodi Montgomery, as well as her mother, Lynne Spears, who said in the filing that her daughter’s relationship with her father had “dwindled to nothing but fear and hatred” because of his “microscopic control” over her life.
At an emotional hearing on June 23, Britney Spears, 39, said she wished to end the conservatorship, which oversees both her personal care and estate, without having to undergo psychiatric evaluations; she added that she had not known that she could file to end it.
But Rosengart said in his petition Monday that he was for now focusing on “the most pressing issue facing Ms. Spears: removing Mr. Spears as conservator of the estate.”
The next status hearing in the case is scheduled for Sept. 29.
Since 2008, Jamie Spears has overseen his daughter’s finances, sometimes with a professional co-conservator. He had also largely controlled Britney Spears’ personal and medical care until a personal conservator, Montgomery, took over in September 2019 on an ongoing temporary basis.
Jamie Spears cited health reasons when he stepped down. But two weeks prior, there had been an alleged physical altercation between Jamie Spears and Britney Spears’ 13-year-old son. No charges were filed in the incident, but the child’s father, Kevin Federline, was granted a restraining order barring Jamie Spears from seeing the children.
Lynne Spears said in the petition to remove Jamie Spears that the incident “understandably destroyed whatever was left of a relationship between” Britney Spears and her father.
She added: “It is clear to me that James P. Spears is incapable of putting my daughter’s interests ahead of his own on both a professional and a personal level and that his being and remaining a conservator of my daughter’s estate is not in the best interests of my daughter.”
Conservatorships are typically reserved for people who cannot take care of themselves. Britney Spears’ case has received scrutiny in recent years because she continued to perform as a pop star — and bring in millions of dollars — while under the arrangement.
“I shouldn’t be in a conservatorship if I can work,” Spears said at the June 23 hearing, while calling for its termination. “It makes no sense. The laws need to change.” She also requested that those behind the conservatorship be investigated for abuse.
Spears had expressed concerns about her father’s level of control over her for years as part of the court proceedings, which were largely sealed. In 2016, the probate investigator in the case concluded that the conservatorship remained in Spears’ best interests based on her complex finances, susceptibility to outside influence and “intermittent” drug issues, according to the report.
But the investigator’s report recommended over the longer term “a pathway to independence and the eventual termination of the conservatorship.”