What’s next for Britney Spears and her conservatorship case
By Julia Jacobs, Joe Coscarelli and Lauren Herstik
Three weeks after Britney Spears denounced the conservatorship that has long controlled her personal life and finances as abusive in an impassioned courtroom speech, a Los Angeles judge said the singer can hire her own lawyer Wednesday.
Judge Brenda Penny approved Spears’ choice of Mathew S. Rosengart, a prominent Hollywood lawyer and former federal prosecutor who is expected to take a more aggressive approach and push for the conservatorship to end, according to a person briefed on the matter.
At a June 23 hearing, Spears spoke out for the first time at length about her life under the arrangement, which was put in place in 2008 amid concerns about her mental health and potential substance abuse, and said she wants it to end. Since her remarks to the court, there has been a flurry of court filings by those involved in managing the conservatorship.
One of the most pressing questions going into the Wednesday hearing involved Spears’ legal representation. When the conservatorship was imposed in 2008, a judge declared the singer unfit to hire her own counsel; a court-appointed attorney, Samuel D. Ingham III, has represented her since.
In her June 23 speech, Spears raised questions about whether Ingham had done enough to educate and support her. In a particularly shocking claim, Spears said that she did not know that it was possible for her to petition to terminate the conservatorship.
After Spears spoke out last month, Ingham asked the court to step down. A law firm that Ingham had recently brought on to assist him, Loeb & Loeb, also submitted a resignation letter. On Wednesday, Penny approved both Ingham and Loeb & Loeb’s resignations.
Here are four questions that remain as the case continues.
1. Will the court investigate Spears’ account?
Days after Spears told the court that she had been abused under her conservatorship — saying that she was forced to take mood-stabilizing drugs and was prevented from removing her birth control device, placing the blame for her treatment on her management team, caretakers and family — her father, James P. Spears, known as Jamie, called for an investigation.
Jamie Spears has been the key player in the arrangement from the beginning. In her speech, Britney Spears described him as someone who had approval over everything in her life, saying, “he loved the control.”
In court filings, Jamie Spears’ lawyers requested an evidentiary hearing into his daughter’s account, writing, “it is critical that the Court confirm whether or not Ms. Spears’ testimony was accurate in order to determine what corrective actions, if any, need to be taken.”
They also attempted to distance Jamie Spears from questions about her well-being, arguing that he was “simply not involved in any decisions related to Ms. Spears’ personal care or medical or reproductive issues” after late 2019, and had been cut off from communicating with her.
Lawyers for Jodi Montgomery, a professional conservator who took over Britney Spears’ personal care from her father on an ongoing temporary basis in 2019, responded forcefully, calling Jamie Spears’ request “procedurally defective” and “wholly improper,” as well as a “thinly veiled attempt to clear his name.”
On Wednesday, Rosengart, along with a lawyer for Montgomery, did not agree on how best to proceed with an investigation.
2. Who will be in charge of Spears’ finances?
Britney Spears’ fortune, which is now estimated near $60 million, has been controlled by her father (sometimes alongside a co-conservator) for the entirety of the conservatorship; a wealth management firm, Bessemer Trust, was appointed as a co-conservator last year after Spears requested that her father be removed from the role.
About a week after the June 23 hearing, Bessemer Trust requested to resign, according to court documents, citing Britney Spears’ criticisms of the arrangement. Once the firm became aware of Spears’ wish to terminate the conservatorship, the filing said, Bessemer no longer wished to be involved. On Wednesday, Penny approved its resignation.
The question is now whether Jamie Spears will be allowed to remain as the sole conservator of Britney Spears’ estate, despite both a formal request from her lawyer and Spears’ own emotional plea that he be removed. “I’m here to get rid of my dad,” Spears said in court Wednesday.
Rosengart, asked the singer’s father to resign as conservator on the spot, but a lawyer for Jamie Spears declined, calling the request inappropriate.
3. Should Spears’ conservator be granted security?
Since Britney Spears’ speech, there has been a “marked increase in the number and severity of threatening posts” about Montgomery on social media, as well as other communications threatening violence or death against her, she said in a court filing.
As a result, Montgomery has asked the court to require Spears’ estate to pay for her security, if her father approves. A court filing on her behalf said that Montgomery sent the threats to the security company that Jamie Spears used, and it recommended that she retain 24/7 protection.
Jamie Spears has objected to that arrangement. In his own court filing, lawyers asserted that Montgomery’s security services would exceed $50,000 per month for an indefinite period — an expense he called unreasonable. He also argued that such payments would set a standard in which Britney Spears would need to cover security costs for anyone receiving threats as a result of the high-profile case.
“Ms. Montgomery is not the only person involved in this conservatorship who has received threatening communications and/or death threats,” lawyers for Jamie Spears wrote.
4. Is a request to end the conservatorship on the way?
The legal machinations that have followed the June 23 hearing all lead to the same question: Will Britney Spears formally appeal to terminate the conservatorship?
In court Wednesday, Spears reiterated her wish that the conservatorship end without her undergoing additional psychiatric evaluations. Now that she has a new lawyer, it is likely only a matter of time before she submits formal paperwork to terminate the arrangement.
After that, it is possible that someone else representing the conservatorship — most likely Spears’ father — could object to the termination, triggering a trial before the judge makes a final decision.
Chris Johnson, a trust and estate lawyer in California who has worked with conservatorships and is not involved in the Spears case, said that judges tend to rely heavily on the opinions of medical experts in considering whether to end a conservatorship and that Spears would probably have to be evaluated again.
“In many cases, it can be harder getting rid of a conservatorship than establishing it in the first place,” Johnson said.