After 13 years of being silenced, Britney Spears’ voice has been heard around the world. Following scathing June 23 testimony in Los Angeles when the Princess of Pop told the judge her conservatorship is “abusive,” Spears gave her second voluntary testimony this summer, speaking to a Los Angeles Superior Court judge on July 14 and once again slamming her father, Jamie Spears, who has been her sole conservator since she was placed under the court-ordered arrangement in 2008.
“I’m here to get rid of my dad and charge him for conservatorship abuse,” Spears told Judge Brenda Penny at her latest hearing.
While Spears’ heartfelt pleas have rallied global support for the #FreeBritney movement, terminating her conservatorship won’t be easy, despite a major legal victory this past week in which Spears was granted her own attorney — power lawyer Mathew Rosengart, who has represented Steven Spielberg and Sean Penn.
“It’s certainly a strong step in the right direction towards termination of the conservatorship, or certainly modification,” says attorney Scott Rahn, founder and managing partner at RMO LLP in Los Angeles, who specializes in estates and conservatorships. “But there’s a road ahead, and it could be a long, winding path or it could be a short one.”
There’s been more movement in Spears’ situation over the past month than there’s been in more than a decade: Spears’ manager of 25 years, Larry Rudolph, quit; her court-appointed attorney, Samuel D. Ingham III, resigned; wealth management firm Bessemer Trust pulled out as co-conservator. But all parties involved will have to consent to terminating the conservatorship; if they don’t, the case will likely end up in a complex trial that will bring depositions from dozens of caretakers and medical experts who have interacted with the singer over the course of 13 years.
“If somebody objects to termination, the reality is you’re looking at potentially a year before a trial,” Rahn says. “My sense is that this is just the beginning.”
During both of her explosive statements, Spears told the judge she refused to be evaluated again and demanded to be freed from her conservatorship. According to numerous legal experts, that scenario is highly unlikely.
“To start a conservatorship, you need a doctor or psychologist to say that the potential conservatee is suffering and cannot make decisions for him or herself. You need the same kind of expert testimony to get out,” says family law attorney David Glass. “The court can’t just take the client’s word.”
Sources close to the singer say the first step, before requesting to terminate, is working to remove Spears’ father — which her attorney has pledged to do immediately.
“My firm and I are moving aggressively and expeditiously to file a petition to remove Jamie Spears unless he resigns first,” Rosengart told reporters outside Stanley Mosk Courthouse on July 19, after a hearing over a money dispute between temporary conservator Jodi Montgomery and Spears’ father. This latest hiccup in Spears’ case does not directly impact the singer but highlights the messiness of her conservatorship. (The next court date on the matter is set for July 26.)
In spite of Spears’ claims of abuse, the court has not investigated whether her father has breached any of his fiduciary duties in his role as sole conservator. But experts say the court could temporarily suspend him, just to get rid of the attention surrounding the highly publicized case. (Spears also seems to have had a falling out with her sister Jamie Lynn, who she mentioned in an Instagram post over the weekend, with a photo that read: “My so-called support system hurt me deeply.”)
Despite the potential legal obstacles ahead, the momentum is encouraging for #FreeBritney fans, who have been dedicated to Spears’ cause for years and have pushed through the noise of being called conspiracy theorists when they first said the star was being held against her will.
“Nothing is going to change about this corrupt conservatorship without public outrage,” says Kevin Wu, a #FreeBritney activist who held a rally at the courthouse at Spears’ first public hearing.
The role the media and the fans play in swaying a legal decision is “minimal at best,” according to Rahn, who adds that “public opinion and news reports are simply not evidence. We hear a lot about this case, but we actually know very little because the file is sealed.”
Still, it’s impossible to deny the renewed interest in Spears’ case following the spotlight put on the conservatorship, including by the New York Times-produced doc “Framing Britney Spears,” recently nominated for two Emmys.
Director Samantha Stark says, “We felt it was in the public interest to expose as much as we can about what’s really been going on … but no one could ever tell us what has been happening to her for the past 13 years better than Britney Spears herself — and she certainly delivered.”
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