After 13 years, Britney free of father's 'toxic' conservatorship
On Wednesday, a judge put an end to James Spears’ role as conservator of Britney Spears’ life and money. A total end to the pop star’s conservatorship is likely to follow. “I am so excited for what she has to do with the rest of her life,” said a fan.
| Los Angeles
Britney Spears has been freed from her father. And she could be freed entirely from court control within weeks.
In a major victory for the pop star, a judge on Wednesday suspended the singer’s father from the conservatorship that has controlled her life and money for 13 years, saying the arrangement “reflects a toxic environment.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny agreed with a petition from Ms. Spears and her attorney that James Spears needs to give up his role as conservator. The decision comes months after the Britney Spears pleaded for her father’s removal in dramatic court hearings, saying, “I want my life back.”
“The current situation is untenable,” the judge said after hearing arguments from both sides. “It reflects a toxic environment which requires the suspension of James Spears.”
And with no objections to ending the conservatorship, Ms. Penny is likely to terminate it at a Nov. 12 hearing, restoring the singer’s life and money choices to her after years of increasingly vocal calls to #FreeBritney that she eventually joined.
James Spears sought the conservatorship in 2008 and had been its primary controller and biggest champion. He reversed course in recent weeks, asking the judge to end the conservatorship immediately, arguing that would render his removal pointless.
The singer and her attorney agreed that the conservatorship should end, but argued that James Spears’ removal was an essential first step.
Britney Spears was not present at the hearing and did not participate in any way. Her father connected remotely but did not speak during the proceedings. His attorney argued that there was no justification for his removal.
“There is not a shred of evidence to support suspension,” lawyer Vivian Thoreen told the judge. “His record is impeccable.”
Ms. Penny said her decision was “unappealable,” but Ms. Thoreen said she would explore options for appeal regardless.
The singer’s attorney, Mathew Rosengart, said after the hearing that Britney Spears “has been faced with a decadelong nightmare, Kafkaesque nightmare orchestrated by her father and others.” Mr. Rosengart pledged to pursue “even more serious ramifications for his misconduct.”
The attorney said he planned to take a “top-to-bottom look” at the actions of James Spears and his representatives and suggested that law enforcement should investigate revelations in The New York Times about a listening device placed in his daughter’s bedroom.
Fans were elated by the ruling.
“My heart’s racing out of my chest,” said Lorin Sisco of Hawaii, who flew to Los Angeles for the hearing and said she’s been at the courthouse for every proceeding for the past year. “I am so excited for what she has to do with the rest of her life.”
Hours before the hearing, a major street outside the courthouse was closed to vehicles, allowing about 100 Spears supporters to march and host a rally where they shouted “Hey, hey, ho, ho, the conservatorship has got to go!” and other pro-Britney chants. As the crowd grew, fans sang Spears hits “Toxic” and “Baby One More Time,” and speakers described abusive conservatorships that had affected their families.
Mr. Rosengart, a former federal prosecutor whom Britney Spears was allowed to hire in July, was one of the few lawyers present in the courtroom and delivered a long, dramatic broadside against James Spears that resembled a closing argument in a criminal case.
He repeatedly used the word “toxic,” alluding to Ms. Spears’ 2003 hit, before the judge echoed it in her ruling.
“He has been abusive, he has been cruel, he has been toxic,” Mr. Rosengart said.
The lawyer said Britney Spears sent him to court with instructions that he do all he could to have her father out, saying she would be “extraordinarily distraught” if he remained.
He said terminating the conservatorship and entering into settlement talks as James Spears’ attorneys proposed would mean her father would still be in power as it was drawn down.
“Britney Spears deserves to wake up tomorrow without her father as her conservator,” Mr. Rosengart said. “Can anybody really dispute that?”
Mr. Rosengart argued that James Spears wanted to terminate the conservatorship because he did not want the records of his dealings turned over to a successor who could examine his “corruption.”
Ms. Thoreen responded that James Spears had been subjected to required court investigations for years and his removal has never been called for.
“Everything Mr. Spears has done for Miss Spears has been in her best interest,” Ms. Thoreen said. “Her best interests would be waking up tomorrow and not being in a conservatorship.”
Mr. Rosengart argued that James Spears had crossed “unfathomable lines” by engaging in illegal surveillance of her, including communications with her children, her boyfriend, and her lawyer, as reported in “Controlling Britney Spears,” a documentary from the Times and the FX network, one of two dueling documentaries released on the eve of the hearing.
“They eavesdropped on some of the most intimate communications of my client,” Mr. Rosengart said.
Ms. Thoreen dismissed those allegations as “rhetoric from a TV show” that “are not evidence.”
James Spears stepped aside in 2019 as the so-called conservator of his daughter’s person, with control over her life decisions, maintaining only his role as conservator of her estate, with control over her finances.
Ms. Penny appointed John Zabel, an accountant chosen by Mr. Rosengart and Britney Spears, to serve as conservator of her finances through the end of the year, but agreed that the conservatorship may be terminated well before that.
Jodi Montgomery, a court-appointed professional, now acts as conservator of Britney Spears’ person, and has agreed the conservatorship can and should end.
The conservatorship was established in 2008 when Britney Spears began to have public mental struggles as hordes of paparazzi aggressively followed her everywhere and she lost custody of her children.
This story was reported by The Associated Press.