Judge frees Britney Spears from her father’s control
For more than a decade, Britney Spears bristled behind closed doors against the court-approved control her father, James P. Spears, had over her life and fortune.
Now, for the first time since 2008, Ms Spears, 39, will be without her father’s supervision, a Los Angeles judge has ruled, as the singer prepares to end her guardianship.
In a hearing on Wednesday, Judge Brenda Penny granted a motion by Ms Spears’ attorney, suspending Mr Spears, 69, from his position as overseer of his daughter’s $ 60 million estate – a decision Ms Spears was pleading, her lawyer said.
“This man does not belong to his life, your honor, for another day,” pleaded Mathew S. Rosengart, who took over as the singer’s lawyer in July. “Please hear my client’s plea. He said it would be a “disaster” for Mr. Spears to stay in his life.
Lawyers for Mr Spears have said the guardianship should be ended instead, calling his record as a curator “flawless.” But after hearing from both sides, the judge agreed that Mr Spears’ suspension was in his daughter’s best interests. “The current situation is not tenable,” Justice Penny said.
She appointed a California accountant, John Zabel, as the singer’s temporary financial curator, as Mr. Rosengart had requested.
The major Los Angeles Superior Court decision – which was met with cheers from Ms Spears supporters outside – capped a whirlwind summer of 13 years of trusteeship, after the singer broke her public silence during ‘a hearing in June, calling the arrangement abusive and exploitative, and drawing even more attention to the unusual and closely watched case.
“I’m traumatized,” Ms Spears said in court at the time, demanding that those overseeing the guardianship be investigated and jailed, and naming her father as “the one who approved it.”
The Guardianship was established in 2008, after Mr Spears sought to control the life and affairs of his pop star daughter, citing her mental health issues and drug addiction.
In a drastic role reversal at Wednesday’s hearing, Mr Spears’ attorney Vivian Lee Thoreen, who had been among the staunchest defenders of the trusteeship, pleaded for an immediate end instead of suspending her client, while Ms. Spears ‘attorney asked the judge to wait for further investigation into Mr. Spears’ conduct.
Although Mr Spears has long argued the arrangement was voluntary and necessary to protect his daughter’s well-being – crediting the guardianship with saving her life and revitalizing her career – he filed earlier this month to end it entirely, citing Mrs. Spears’ wishes and recent demonstrations of independence. (Ms Spears said in June that she didn’t know she could act to end it.)
Ms Thoreen said in court that Mr Spears’ suspension as a Tory was not necessary because everyone was in agreement that the trusteeship should end. But Mr Rosengart, who had said in court records that Ms Spears had consented to end the arrangement, argued Mr Spears was seeking to avoid having to hand over the trusteeship records, including 13 years financial information.
Mr. Rosengart instead asked the judge to schedule a hearing in 30 to 45 days to discuss the end of the guardianship. “My client wants, my client needs, my client deserves an orderly transition,” the lawyer said. The next hearing in the case was scheduled for November 12.
Mr. Spears could be removed from his duties as Registrar entirely on that date, or at another hearing to determine whether he breached his responsibility for various reasons, including estate mismanagement or “serious immorality.” . The court has set an additional hearing for December 8 to settle outstanding financial issues, including more than $ 1 million in legal fees billed to the estate.
The peaceful public facade of the Britney Spears machine has started to crumble in recent years, as the singer stepped down from her job and a court-appointed lawyer who had represented her since 2008 began calling for substantial changes to the arrangement, including the removal of his father.
Then, in June, Ms. Spears shattered any perception of harmony between the parties. “I have been in denial. I was in shock, ”she told the court, detailing allegations that she was drugged and forced to work against her will, while being prevented from withdrawing her contraceptive.
The singer’s father, calling for an investigation into her allegations, denied being responsible for her treatment, instead questioning the actions of Jodi Montgomery, Ms Spears’ current personal curator, and others.
But following her remarks in court, Ms Spears, who was initially found unable to hire her own lawyer and instead appointed one, was allowed to choose her own representation for the first time in July. Mr Rosengart has since pushed to remove the singer’s father from the equation as he prepares to end guardianship entirely this fall.
But Mr Spears’ attorneys asked this month to end the guardianship first. Mr Rosengart called the move a “justification” for Ms Spears, although he raised the possibility that the singer’s father was attempting “to avoid liability and justice, including by resting for a sworn statement and responding to other findings under oath “.
In court documents, the lawyer also cited Ms Spears’ recent engagement to her longtime boyfriend, arguing that her father should not be involved in creating a prenuptial agreement. The singer’s fiancé Sam Asghari celebrated the decision on Instagram on Wednesday. “Free Britney! ” he wrote. “Congratulations!!!!!!!!!”
Earlier in August, lawyers for Mr Spears said he would eventually step down as Tory, but did not provide a timeline, calling for “an orderly transition to a new Tory.”
In addition to calling for an investigation into Mr. Spears ‘behavior, Mr. Rosengart questioned Mr. Spears’ financial management of the singer’s estate, including the amount of his salary as a curator, ” unwarranted commissions ”and“ potential self-operation ”.
A recent New York Times report revealed that Ms Spears had long questioned Mr Spears’ suitability as a conservative, citing his drinking and his “obsession” with it. This month, in “Controlling Britney Spears,” a Times documentary, a former employee of a security firm said that under guardianship, the singer was being followed by an intense surveillance device that was secretly capturing audio recordings of his room and his telephone equipment.
Recording conversations in a private location and reproducing text messages without the consent of both parties may be a violation of the law. It is not clear whether the court overseeing Ms Spears’ guardianship approved the surveillance or was aware of its existence.
Ms Spears’ attorney asked the court to review the allegations and raised the allegations in court on Wednesday, calling it “unfathomable” to listen to some of “my client’s most intimate communications.”
Mr Rosengart said he believed this was what prompted Mr Spears to suddenly want to end 180-degree tutelage, adding: “What he’s afraid of is exposure of his corruption. ” An attorney for Mr Spears said the information in the documentary should not be taken as evidence.
Outside the courtroom, the singer’s fans reacted to the decision with hugs and tears. “They thought we were crazy. They thought she was crazy, ”said Robert Bordelon, 25, who was the first to tell the crowd the decision had been made.
Angelique Fawcette, 51, an activist who helped organize the “rally of unity”, said the suspension had bigger implications. “It means so much to the hundreds of thousands of people who are locked in guardianship,” she said, “both legal and illegal”.
Joe Coscarelli reported from New York, and Julia Jacobs and Liz Day from Los Angeles. Lauren Herstik, Douglas Morino and Samantha Stark contributed reporting from Los Angeles.