Photo from the New York Times.
By Terrance Turner
June 23, 2021 (updated Aug. 12, Sept. 7, Sept. 29)
BREAKING: Jamie Spears has been removed from his daughter’s conservatorship. Judge Brenda Penny granted a petition from Britney Spears’ lawyer, Mathew Rosengart, to suspend Mr. Spears immediately. Rosengart argued in court Wednesday that Mr. Spears could not continue as conservator another day, stating that Ms. Spears “does not want Jamie in her life.”
Judge Penny agreed. “The current situation is not tenable,” she said today.
The court appointed accountant John Zabel as temporary conservator of Ms. Spears’ finances, according to the New York Times. Jodi Montgomery remains in charge of the singer’s personal decisions and day-to-day life
James Spears filed his petition to terminate the conservatorship in Los Angeles Superior Court, according to the Associated Press. “As Mr. Spears has said again and again, all he wants is what is best for his daughter,” the document says. “If Ms. Spears wants to terminate the conservatorship and believes that she can handle her own life, Mr. Spears believes that she should get that chance.”
Ms. Spears’ lawyer Mathew Rosengart called the move a “vindication” for his client. But he added the implication that Mr. Spears was doing it to avoid deposition. “It appears that Mr. Spears believes he can try to avoid accountability and justice, including sitting for a sworn deposition and answering other discovery under oath, but as we assess his filing — which was inappropriately sent to the media before it was served on counsel — our investigation will continue,” Rosengart said.
This is a developing story. My original updated article appears below:
Britney Spears’ father Jamie Spears has agreed to step down from her conservatorship, Variety reports. Spears and his lawyers filed a response today to the singer’s request for his suspension. Paperwork was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.
“There are, in fact, no actual grounds for suspending or removing Mr. Spears as the Conservator of the Estate under Probate Code section 2650. And it is highly debatable whether a change in conservator at this time would be in Ms. Spears’ best interests,” the court doc states.
“Nevertheless, even as Mr. Spears is the unremitting target of unjustified attacks, he does not believe that a public battle with his daughter over his continuing service as her conservator would be in her best interests,” the filing continues. “So even though he must contest this unjustified Petition for his removal, Mr. Spears intends to work with the Court and his daughter’s new attorney to prepare for an orderly transition to a new conservator. As the Court has likely surmised, before Ms. Spears’ new attorney arrived, Mr. Spears had already been working on such a transition with Ms. Spears’ former court-appointed counsel, Sam Ingham.”
In response to Spears’ father stepping down, the pop star’s attorney, Mathew Rosengart, issued a statement. “I announced in Court on July 14 that, after 13 years of the status quo, it was time for Mr. Spears to be suspended or removed as conservator and that my firm and I would move aggressively and expeditiously for that outcome,” Rosengart said.
“Twelve days later, my firm filed a Petition for Mr. Spears’s suspension and removal based on strong, insurmountable legal grounds,” he stated. “We are pleased that Mr. Spears and his lawyer have today conceded in a filing that he must be removed. It is vindication for Britney. We are disappointed, however, by their ongoing shameful and reprehensible attacks on Ms. Spears and others,” Rosengart’s statement says. “We look forward to continuing our vigorous investigation into the conduct of Mr. Spears, and others, over the past 13 years, while he reaped millions of dollars from his daughter’s estate, and I look forward to taking Mr. Spears’s sworn deposition in the near future.”
On June 23, in a rare public hearing, Britney Spears asked a judge to end her conservatorship.
It began in January 2008 — after a year in which Spears shaved her head, attacked paparazzi, and lost custody of her children. After refusing to relinquish the children to their father Kevin Federline, she was hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Then Spears was committed to a ward in UCLA Medical Center. She was placed under a 5150 psychiatric hold (for those who are “gravely disabled” or considered dangers to themselves or others). Spears was placed in a conservatorship, in which a court-appointed person manages the affairs of someone who is incapacitated (typically those who are elderly or disabled.) Her father Jamie Spears was placed in charge.
In 2019, the arrangement was amended: Mr. Spears still controls his daughter’s finances, but a licensed conservator, Jodi Montgomery, was tasked with her personal care. The New York Times adds: “The appointed conservators have control over everything from Ms. Spears’s mental health care to where and when she can travel; the setup requires that conservators are required to submit detailed accounts of her purchases to the court — including even minor charges like $5 purchases at Sonic Drive-In or Target.”
This February, the New York Times documentary “Framing Britney Spears” explored Spears’ conservatorship and treatment by the media. It sparked renewed questions as to why the arrangement is still needed. In the decade since it began, Spears, 39, has been able to work, perform, record and write songs. (Her album Femme Fatale hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts in 2011; she worked as a judge on “X-Factor” the following year. Her album Glory made it to No. 3 in 2016.) Yet Spears still can’t manage her own money — or much of anything.
Britney Spears asked Judge Brenda Penny for permission to speak in court on June 23. Montgomery requested the testimony be made private; Spears interrupted and said it should be public. “They’ve done a good job of exploiting my life,” she said, per The Hollywood Reporter. “So I feel like it should be open court hearing and they should listen to what I have to say.”
She had a lot to say. In her searing testimony, Spears sounded off about her father, her family, her management, and the conservatorship. She said that she was forced to go on her “Piece of Me” tour in 2018 (a video has surfaced of her performing on tour with a 102-degree fever). And that was just the beginning.
Spears spoke remotely by phone, according to the Associated Press. She read from a prepared statement — so quickly that Judge Penny asked her to slow down.
“Oh, of course. Yes. Okay,” Spears answered. “To recap: I was on tour in 2018. I was forced to: my management said if I don’t do this tour, I will have to find an attorney. My own management could sue me if I didn’t follow through with the tour. He handed me a sheet of paper as I got off the stage in Vegas and said I had to sign it. It was very threatening and scary. And with the conservatorship, I couldn’t even get my own attorney. So out of fear, I went ahead and I did the work.”
“When I came off that tour, a new show in Las Vegas was supposed to take place [in early 2019]. I started rehearsing early, but it was hard because I’d been doing Vegas for four years and I needed a break in between. But no, I was told this is the timeline and this is how it’s going to go. I rehearsed four days a week,” Spears continued. “I was basically directing most of the show. I actually did most of the choreography, meaning I taught my dancers my new choreography myself.”
Everything went left after Spears said no to a dance move: “I said no, I don’t want to do it this way.” Her team went into a room and didn’t come out for 45 minutes, she said. “I was told by my at the time therapist, Dr. Benson — who died [in 2019] — that my manager called him and [said] I wasn’t cooperating or following the guidelines in rehearsals. And he also said I wasn’t taking my medication, which is so dumb, because I’ve had the same lady every morning for the past eight years give me my same medication. And I’m nowhere near these stupid people. It made no sense at all.”
Then, Spears said, her medications were changed. “Three days later, after I said no to Vegas, my therapist sat me down in a room and said he had a million phone calls about how I was not cooperating in rehearsals, and I haven’t been taking my medication. All this was false — he immediately, the next day, put me on lithium out of nowhere. He took me off my normal meds I’ve been on for five years.”
Lithium is a strong mood stabilizer. “You can go mentally impaired if you take too much, if you stay on it longer than five months. But he put me on that and I felt drunk, couldn’t have a conversation with my mom or dad about anything,” Spears said. The doctor sent nurses to monitor her: “There were six different nurses in my home and they wouldn’t let me get in my car to go anywhere for a month. Not only did my family not do a goddamn thing, my dad was all for it. Anything that happened to me had to be approved by my dad.” It was Jamie, she claimed, who told her she’d failed a psych test and had to go to rehab that cost $60,000 a month: “I cried on the phone for an hour and he loved every minute of it.”
Britney said there was a sadistic element to her father’s control: “The control he had over someone as powerful as me — he loved the control to hurt his own daughter. 100,000%. He loved it. I packed my bags and went to that place. I worked seven days a week, no days off — which in California, the only similar thing to this is called sex trafficking. Making anyone work against their will, taking all their possessions away — credit card, cash, phone, passport — and placing them in a home where they work with the people who live with them. They all lived in the house with me, the nurses, the 24-7 security. There was one chef that came there and cooked for me daily during the weekdays. They watched me change every day — naked – morning, noon and night.”
Spears was placed on a strict schedule: “If I didn’t do any of my meetings and work from eight to six at night — which is 10 hours a day, seven days a week, no days off — I wouldn’t be able to see my kids or my boyfriend.”
UPDATE: Variety has obtained a transcript of the remarks. Excerpts are quoted below:
“I’ve lied and told the whole world ‘I’m OK and I’m happy.’ It’s a lie. I thought I just maybe if I said that enough maybe I might become happy, because I’ve been in denial. I’ve been in shock. I am traumatized,” she said. “I’m telling you the truth, OK? I’m not happy. I can’t sleep. I’m so angry it’s insane. And I’m depressed. I cry every day.”
“I want changes going forward. I deserve changes,” Spears said. “If I want to end the conservatorship, ma’am, I didn’t know I could [contest] the conservatorship. I’m sorry for my ignorance, but I honestly didn’t know that. But honestly, but I don’t think I owe anyone to be evaluated. I’ve done more than enough.”
Spears shed light on why she’s been so silent publicly. “It’s embarrassing and demoralizing — that’s the main reason I’ve never said it openly. And mainly, I didn’t want to say it openly, because I honestly don’t think anyone would believe me, to be honest with you. The Paris Hilton story on what they did to her to that that school. I didn’t believe any of that either — I’m sorry. I’m an outsider.
And maybe I’m wrong, and that’s why I didn’t want to say any of this to anybody to the public. People would make fun of me or laugh at me and say, ‘She’s lying, she’s got everything, she’s Britney Spears.’
I’m not lying. I just want my life back. It’s been 13 years. And it’s enough. It’s been a long time since I’ve owned my money. And it’s my wish and my dream for all of this to end without being tested,” Spears declared. “All I want is to own my money, for this to end, and my boyfriend to drive me in his fucking car.
And I would honestly like to sue my family, to be totally honest with you. I also would like to be able to share my story with the world, and what they did to me, instead of it being a hush-hush secret to benefit all of them. I want to be able to be heard on what they did to me by making me keep this in for so long, is not good for my heart. I’ve been so angry and I cry every day, it concerns me, I’m told I’m not allowed to expose the people who did this to me,” she said.
“I’d like for my boyfriend to be able to drive me in his car. And I’d like to meet with a therapist once a week, not twice a week,” Spears requested. “And I want him to come to my home, ’cause I actually know I do need a little therapy,” she laughed.
“I want to be able to get married and have a baby. I was told, right now, in the conservatorship, I’m not able to get married or have a baby. I have an IUD inside of myself right now so I don’t get pregnant. I wanted to take the IUD out,” she said. “But this so-called team won’t let me go to the doctor to remove it because they don’t want me to have any more children. So basically this conservatorship is doing me way more harm than good.”
“I deserve to have a life. I’ve worked my whole life.”
UPDATE (July 1, 2021): Bessemer Trust, a wealth management firm that had planned to act as co-conservator of Britney Spears’s finances, has asked to leave the arrangement.In a request filed in Los Angeles Superior Court today, Bessemer Managing Director Jeff Glowacki stated he was led to believe Spears approved the conservatorship and only learned the truth after her testimony last week.
Glowacki says he was contacted by Samuel Ingram, the court-appointed legal counsel for Spears, to see if Bessemer Trust was interested in managing the estate. “I was told by the parties that the Conservatorship was an ongoing, voluntary Conservatorship and [that] the Conservatee had consented to Bessemer’s appointment,” Glowacki said. “As a result of the Conservatee’s testimony at the June 23, 2021 hearing, I became aware that the Conservatee [Spears] objects to the continuance of the Conservatorship and desires to terminate the Conservatorship. Petitioner has heard the Conservatee and respects her wishes.”
Spears scored a major victory in a court hearing July 14. According to Now This, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny granted Spears approval to hire her own attorney. Spears has chosen prominent Hollywood lawyer Mathew Rosengart, according to multiple reports. He’s a former federal prosecutor who has also represented Sean Penn and Steven Spielberg. Spears’s new representation comes after her court-appointed lawyer Samuel D. Ingham stepped down earlier this month, along with co-conservator and financial company Bessemer Trust.
In court on Wednesday, Spears told the court that she wishes to have her father removed from controlling her finances and life. “I’m here to get rid of my dad and charge him with conservatorship abuse,” Spears told the court. Her new attorney echoed that sentiment in his remarks. “If he loves his daughter, it is time to step aside — to move forward,” Rosengart said.