An emotional Britney Spears scored a victory in her bid to end her father’s control of her affairs on Wednesday, as a judge ruled she could appoint her own lawyer to help end a 13-year guardianship arrangement that the pop superstar has condemned as “cruelty.”
The controversial arrangement, known as a conservatorship, stems from 2008 and gives Britney’s father, Jamie Spears, control of her business and personal affairs. He is currently the sole person in charge of her $60m estate. “You’re allowing my dad to ruin my life,” 39-year-old Spears told the Los Angeles judge by phone. “I have to get rid of my dad and charge him with conservatorship abuse.”
Speaking for about 10 minutes, and by turns angry and upset, Spears said she had always been “extremely scared of my dad”. She said she was fed up with the multiple psychological evaluations and wanted the conservatorship brought to an end without another one. “I’m not a perfect person … but their goal is to make me feel like I’m crazy,” Spears said.
It was the second time Spears had addressed the court publicly. Last month, she called the legal arrangement abusive and stupid in a 20-minute public address that fuelled worldwide interest in the conservatorship, which her father initiated after his daughter had a mental health breakdown. Details of Spears’s mental health issues have never publicly been disclosed.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny on Wednesday approved former federal prosecutor Mathew Rosengart as Spears’s lawyer. The singer’s court-appointed lawyer stepped down last week.
Rosengart told the AFP news agency on the sidelines of the hearing that he would file a petition “as soon as possible” to remove Jamie Spears as the conservator – and suggested the singer’s father should simply step down. “We will be filing a petition as soon as possible to move Mr Spears, subject to our formal retention,” said Rosengart, who has previously represented the likes of Steven Spielberg and Sean Penn.
“As I said in open court, a very fair question is: Why is Mr Spears not voluntarily stepping down? He does not belong in this conservatorship any more. And we believe he should voluntarily step down immediately.” Spears, who shot to global fame in her teens, suffered a highly public breakdown in 2007 after being hounded by paparazzi.
A California court placed her under the conservatorship the following year and the singer soon returned to performing, releasing three albums, appearing on television and taking up a Las Vegas residency. But in January 2019, she abruptly announced she was suspending her performances until further notice.
Her case has drawn increasing public support, from fans chanting outside the courtroom – who greeted the news of her replacement lawyer with raucous cheers – to her musical peers Christina Aguilera and Madonna. At a small demonstration in Washington, DC, 34-year-old Patrick Thomas, head of the recently formed Free Britney America group, called the singer’s situation “archaic”.
“This is not just about Britney alone. This is about every other person who is trapped in one of these, what I would call a prison,” said Thomas, whose group is pushing for a congressional hearing and federal oversight of conservatorships. In her first comments to the court in June, Spears complained of being prevented from marrying or having more children, and said she was compelled to take medication against her will.
Spears said she had been made to perform shows under threat of lawsuit, and that she was not even allowed to get changed in privacy or drive her own car. “I just want my life back. It’s been 13 years and it’s enough,” she said. Since then, many of the central figures in the management of Spears’ affairs have distanced themselves including Samuel Ingham, the lawyer appointed by the court soon after her breakdown, and longtime manager Larry Rudolph.
Jamie Spears’s lawyer did not oppose the appointment of a new lawyer for his daughter, but told the court that Spears’s claim that her father is responsible for all the bad things that have happened to her is “the furthest thing from the truth”. Signalling he would not step down voluntarily, the lawyer said Spears’s father “has been there 24/7 for the past 13 years,” and repeated a call for the court to investigate the singer’s claims of abuse.