Britney Spears will no longer have to deal with her father handling her business affairs. An L.A. judge on Wednesday granted the artist’s petition to suspend him from his role as conservator of her estate immediately, finding the arrangement was no longer in her best interest.
“I believe that the suspension is in the best interests of the conservatee. The current situation is untenable,” L.A. County Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny said in issuing the order. Spears’ conservatorship was established in 2008 after she was hospitalized for a psychiatric evaluation. The oversight is split into two parts: conservator of the person and conservator of the estate. Her father, Jamie Spears, did both until September 2019, when a woman named Jodi Montgomery took over the personal side.
After more than a decade of general stagnation, in the past three months the circumstances have rapidly changed: Britney is now working with a lawyer of her choosing; Jamie petitioned to end the conservatorship; and Britney petitioned to have him immediately removed from his role while her team set its sights on winding down the conservatorship this coming fall.
Those dueling petitions and a host of other issues were on a packed agenda for a Wednesday afternoon hearing before Judge Penny.
Things quickly got heated between Britney’s attorney Mathew Rosengart and Jamie’s lawyer Vivian Thoreen, who argued that ending the conservatorship entirely was the best course of action because it would moot all the other pending issues. “Given that Ms. Spears has indicated that she consents to termination,” Thoreen said, “there’s no need to discuss” the other petitions, including the suspension of her father.
She suggested that the court come up with an orderly manner to end the conservatorship without a protracted, contentious and public fight, adding a request for a mandatory settlement conference and private mediation so the parties can assess issues of resources and cost to all parties. She also defended her client against claims that he had acted in bad faith during his tenure. “Mr. Spears has faithfully and loyally served,” she noted.
Rosengart, meanwhile, said Jamie’s immediate suspension is the priority and another hearing could be set in the coming weeks to formally terminate the conservatorship. He also alleged Jamie was trying to end things now to “suppress evidence of his corruption.” Rosengart repeatedly called Jamie’s presence in Britney’s life and conservatorship “toxic and untenable,” and because of that, she deserves to wake up without her father as conservator. “My client wants, my client needs, my client deserves an orderly transition,” he said. “She wants him out of her life today rather than a lingering, toxic presence.”
Before a brief recess — that followed the 80-minute back-and-forth between the lawyers — Penny suspended Jamie and approved the temporary appointment of CPA John Zabel. She also instructed Jamie to turn over the financial books and other documents related to the estate to his successor.
After the break, Penny set a hearing for Nov. 12 for the sole purpose of considering the termination of the conservatorship. Other pending issues, such as substantial fees for lawyers, including three years of work done by her court-appointed attorney Samuel Ingham, will be addressed in a separate hearing on Dec. 13.
Wednesday afternoon’s hearing was poised to be the most pivotal moment yet in Britney’s 13-year conservatorship battle and it felt that way with a crowd gathered outside the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown L.A., including dozens of media outlets and a sea of vocal #FreeBritney supporters, many toting homemade signs, chanting for her freedom and rallying support through media appearances. Inside the courtroom, it was a capacity crowd of masked media with several seats reserved for the public. Journalists, approved in advance of attending the hearing, were given seat assignments and ordered to line up one hour before the 1:30 p.m. start time. At that time, the air was thick with tension and anticipation as L.A. County Sheriff deputies worked in tandem with court officials to manage the flow and keep those in line from taking photographs or recording the proceedings.
While sources close to Britney had indicated she was unhappy with the conservatorship, it wasn’t until she addressed the court in June that the world truly learned her perspective. “I’ve been in denial. I’ve been in shock. I am traumatized,” she said June 23, expressing her desire for the arrangement to end. “I just want my life back.”
Britney’s nearly 30-minute testimony in front of Penny sent shockwaves through the world. In another stunning development, a month later Judge Penny granted Britney the ability to hire her own counsel in Rosengart, a Hollywood power lawyer and former prosecutor. Rosengart acted swiftly in petitioning the court to suspend Jamie from his role as conservator of her estate and has indicated he’s investigating alleged abuses of that power.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Rosengart praised Britney’s blistering June and July testimonies for so “poignantly,” “compellingly” and “articulately” portraying the “abuse and cruelty” she endured during the conservatorship due to her father. He also addressed allegations of Jamie’s alcoholism and said he has profited off of his daughter during the 13 years he managed her estate. “He has reaped millions,” Rosengart said. “He has taken more money per month than he has allowed her.”
Rosengart also brought up an issue he described as “very, very dramatic,” pointing to a New York Times exposé in which former Black Box Security employee Alex Vlasov claimed that his boss, Edan Yemini, was instructed by Britney’s father to place a recording device in her bedroom as well as eavesdrop on her private conversations with counsel and her two children. Rosengart called the claims “unfathomable,” adding that, “it’s shocking, your honor.”
Rosengart said that Britney is aware of the allegations that her father placed a recording device in her bedroom. “Imagine how traumatic?” he posited. In regard to making a decision to suspend, Rosengart said, “Sometimes judges are asked to make difficult decisions. This is not such a decision. This is a very easy decision.”
In her rebuttal, Thoreen dismissed the claims of illegal recording as being part of a “TV show,” adding that it amounts to “pure rhetoric — he knows that.” Thoreen also adamantly disputed other abuses and defended the bad faith accusations by saying that Jamie had remained in good standing with the court and has always acted faithfully on behalf of his daughter. “His record is impeccable,” Thoreen said, adding that he was always guided by a team of professionals and there have never been accounting or other issues called into question by the court.
Thoreen also on numerous occasions disputed the appointment of Zabel as the temporary conservator, calling into question his credentials as well as alleging that he had personally mismanaged his own finances after being “duped” out of $1 million of his own money. “There are red flags all over the place” for the nominee, who Rosengart said had been personally signed off on by Britney.
Once the decision had been made, several attendees darted out of the courtroom to relay it to the waiting news crews and legions of fans outside, who erupted with cheers and applause. While the dedicated #FreeBritney fans have been advocating for her freedom for quite some time, the general public’s fascination with the case kicked into overdrive following the Feb. 5 debut of Framing Britney Spears. The documentary, a New York Times Presents special in partnership with Hulu and FX, recapped the pop superstar’s rise to fame, a highly publicized 2007 breakdown, the media circus that swirled around her, and the eventual conservatorship with her father Jamie Spears at the helm. The project shed new light on the arrangement thanks to interviews with onetime confidants, resulting in a renewed fascination with the case and a wave of support for the singer.
Britney’s testimony and the latest developments in the case also served to inspire another installment of the New York Times Presents series on FX and Hulu — this one titled Controlling Britney Spears — which debuted last Friday night. It contained damning allegations that the estate, acting at the behest of Jamie, ordered Britney’s private security to record her personal conversations and activities in the home, including in her bedroom.
The documentary was timed to debut before the hearing and hit screens just ahead of a bottleneck of competing projects, including the buzzed-about Netflix documentary Britney vs Spears from filmmaker Erin Lee Carr as well as CNN’s own investigation, Toxic: Britney Spears’ Battle for Freedom. The former project, which debuted Tuesday, featured executive producer and journalist Jenny Eliscu sharing an emotional story about how she worked in tandem with Britney’s onetime manager Sam Lutfi on a covert mission to have Britney sign a petition requesting a new attorney in 2009, again showing just how long the star has allegedly been unhappy with the arrangement and her representation. (Their efforts failed.)
Britney’s new fiance, actor Sam Asghari, responded to the crush of docs by posting on social media, “Past docs left bad after taste. I’m hopeful this one will be respectful,” he wrote in reference to the Netflix offering. “I don’t blame CNN, BBC or Netflix (which got me thru lockdowns) for airing them because, as an actor, I tell other people’s stories too. I question producers who made them ‘just to shed light’ without input or approval from the subject.” He also posted: “I hope the profit from these docs go towards fighting against injustice.”
As for Britney, she responded to an unspecified documentary by posting on Instagram, “I watched a little bit of the last documentary and I must say I scratched my head a couple of times!!! I really try to disassociate myself from the drama!!!” TMZ later cited sources and reported that Britney was referring to the CNN documentary, specifically.
On Wednesday, Asghari reacted to the hearing by posting on Instagram “The power of the lioness!!!!! #freebritney” Spears herself has not yet commented, but Rosengart called the decision a “monumental win for Britney, and for justice.”
The following morning, Jamie responded with a statement through his lawyer, Thoreen, calling the decision disappointing. Read the statement in full, below:
Mr. Spears loves his daughter Britney unconditionally. For 13 years, he has tried to do what is in her best interests, whether as a conservator or her father. This started with agreeing to serve as her conservator when she voluntarily entered into the conservatorship. This included helping her revive her career and re-establish a relationship with her children. For anyone who has tried to help a family member dealing with mental health issues, they can appreciate the tremendous amount of daily worry and work this required. For Mr. Spears, this also meant biting his tongue and not responding to all the false, speculative, and unsubstantiated attacks on him by certain members of the public, media, or more recently, Britney’s own attorney.
These facts make the outcome of yesterday’s hearing all the more disappointing, and frankly, a loss for Britney. Respectfully, the court was wrong to suspend Mr. Spears, put a stranger in his place to manage Britney’s estate, and extend the very conservatorship that Britney begged the court to terminate earlier this summer. Again, it was Mr. Spears who took the initiative to file the petition to terminate the conservatorship when neither Britney’s former court-appointed counsel nor her new privately-retained attorney would do so. It was Mr. Spears who asked the court at yesterday’s hearing to immediately terminate the conservatorship while Britney’s own attorney argued against it.
Despite the suspension, Mr. Spears will continue to look out for the best interests of his daughter and work in good faith towards a positive resolution of all matters.
Sept. 30, 8:50 a.m. Updated to include Jamie Spears’ statement.
Oct. 3, 8:25 p.m. Updated to clarify which documentary Britney was reportedly referring to in her Instagram post.