Prominent lawyer makes moves to represent Britney Spears
By Michael S. Schmidt and Liz Day
A prominent Hollywood lawyer has had discussions in recent days with Britney Spears about representing her in her conservatorship battle, and he plans to attend a hearing in Los Angeles on Wednesday to begin the process of taking over as her counsel, according to a person briefed on the matter.
For the past 13 years, under a strict legal arrangement that curbs many of her rights, Spears has been represented by a court-appointed lawyer whom she criticized at a hearing last month as she urged the court to let her hire her own counsel.
Spears has told others she wanted to take a far more aggressive legal approach. In recent days she began having discussions with Mathew S. Rosengart, a former federal prosecutor who has represented several celebrities in recent years, about having him take over and push for an end to the conservatorship, according to the person.
The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because Spears has not retained Rosengart and a judge will need to sign off on any such arrangement. TMZ first reported that Spears was interested in having Rosengart represent her.
If allowed by the court, Spears’ retaining of Rosengart would signal a drastic change in the handling of the case. Confidential court documents recently obtained by The New York Times revealed that Spears had expressed strong objections to the conservatorship over several years and questioned her father’s fitness as conservator. Rosengart would be expected to aggressively pursue a path to ending the arrangement.
The feud has escalated in recent months as scrutiny of the unusual conservatorship has intensified and Spears has publicly questioned its legitimacy. The guardianship was instituted in 2008, when concerns about her mental health and potential substance abuse led her father, James Spears, to petition for legal authority over his daughter. Since her June 23 statement to the court, several pillars of the conservatorship have fallen: Bessemer Trust, the wealth-management firm that was set to take over as the co-conservator of her estate, requested to withdraw; Spears’ longtime manager, Larry Rudolph, resigned; and Samuel D. Ingham III, the lawyer appointed by the court in 2008 to represent her when she was deemed unfit to hire her own counsel, asked the court if he could step down.
Ingham said in a court filing that he would serve until the court had appointed new counsel for Spears, but it is not clear how a new lawyer would be selected or whether Judge Brenda Penny, who is overseeing the case, would allow Spears to have a say in the matter.
Rosengart, 58, once served as a law clerk for the former New Hampshire state judge David Souter, shortly before he was nominated to the Supreme Court. Rosengart worked at the Justice Department as an assistant United States Attorney in the 1990s.
After leaving the Justice Department, he worked as a white-collar defense attorney and civil litigator. In recent years, he has represented several high profile Hollywood personalities, including Sean Penn, Steven Spielberg and Kenneth Lonergan.
In Penn’s case, Rosengart helped him win a defamation case against a director who made claims about Penn’s past behavior. The lawyer produced an affidavit from Madonna, the actor’s ex-wife, that refuted the director’s assertions. Penn said in a statement Sunday that Rosengart “is a tough as nails streetfighter with a big brain and bigger principles.”
At a hearing on June 23, Spears vehemently criticized the conservatorship, claiming she had been forced to perform, take debilitating medication and remain on birth control.
She also raised questions about Ingham’s advocacy on her behalf. She said in court that she had been unaware of how to terminate the arrangement.
“I didn’t know I could petition the conservatorship to be ended,” Spears, 39, said in court. “I’m sorry for my ignorance, but I honestly didn’t know that.” She added, “My attorney says I can’t — it’s not good, I can’t let the public know anything they did to me.”
“He told me I should keep it to myself, really,” the singer said.
It is unknown what private discussions Ingham and Spears have had about whether or how she could ask to end the conservatorship. Last year, Ingham began seeking substantial changes to the setup on behalf of Spears, including attempts to strip power from her father, who remains in control of the singer’s nearly $60 million fortune.
Ingham’s request to withdraw also included the resignation letter of the law firm Loeb & Loeb, which Ingham had brought on last year to assist him in preparation for litigation.
A lawyer for Lynne Spears, Spears’ mother and an interested party in the conservatorship, has asked the court to allow Britney Spears to hire her own private legal counsel.
Spears’ personal conservator, Jodi Montgomery, recently filed an urgent request for the court to appoint a guardian ad litem who would be assigned solely to help Spears choose her own lawyer. The filing stated that Spears had been “repeatedly and consistently” asking for Montgomery’s assistance in finding a new lawyer and that Spears deserved to be represented by a top-tier firm.
Rosengart is a partner at Greenberg Traurig, a major international firm that has hundreds of lawyers with a range of expertise.