Britney Spears’ conservatorship is seemingly one step closer to an end, now that her father has filed a petition seeking to terminate it, but there’s likely still a long road ahead and many questions that need to be answered before that can happen.
Still, her team is celebrating the development after repeatedly calling for Jamie Spears to resign as conservator of her estate.
“This filing represents a massive legal victory for Britney Spears, as well as vindication,” said her attorney Mathew Rosengart in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter.
Rosengart on July 26 filed a petition asking L.A. County Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny to suspend or remove Jamie Spears from the conservatorship. In it, he argued that while “there might well come a time when the Court will be called upon to consider whether the conservatorship should be terminated in its entirety” in the meantime Jamie should be removed. A new interim conservator of the estate was also proposed in the filing, a CPA with a specialty in forensic accounting, but since then he has reportedly asked to be withdrawn from consideration. Radar Online reported that it was because he wanted to keep himself and his family out of the spotlight.
It’s not entirely surprising. Many people in Spears’ circle, especially ones with roles in the conservatorship, have received harassment and threats that have escalated in the weeks following her emotional testimony on June 23. The conservator of Britney’s person, Jodi Montgomery, has indicated she has been asked by Spears to stay involved and she won’t quit because of the harassment — though she did ask for increased security.
Meanwhile, Jamie Spears in August filed an opposition to the petition calling for his removal. In it, he indicated that he would be willing to step away from the conservatorship after an unspecified transition period, which included the resolution of the pending accounting. Rosengart criticized the move, arguing it is merely an effort by Jamie to redeem his image and use his remaining leverage to push through about $2 million in fees to third parties including his attorneys.
In a petition filed at the end of the court day Tuesday, Jamie Spears has taken things a step further and is asking Penny to end the conservatorship entirely — and he questions why the formal request didn’t come from his daughter’s legal team.
“The conservatorship has helped Ms. Spears get through a major life crisis, rehabilitate and advance her career, and put her finances and her affairs in order. But recently, things have changed,” writes Jamie Spears’ attorney Vivian Thoreen in the filing. “Ms. Spears is now outspoken in her frustration with the level of control imposed by a conservatorship, and has pleaded with this Court to ‘let her have her life back.’ … If Ms. Spears wants to terminate the conservatorship and believes that she can handle her own life, Mr. Spears believes that she should get that chance.”
Thoreen argues probate code doesn’t require a mental or psychological evaluation to end a conservatorship, and doing so is at Penny’s discretion. The Judicial Council of California, the policymaking body for the state courts, confirmed that to THR earlier this summer, but public affairs analyst Blaine Corren did warn that “if the petitioner doesn’t submit an evaluation, the court may not find sufficient evidence to grant the petition to terminate.”
While that may be true, Thoreen argues Penny’s decision to allow Spears to choose her own attorney could indicate she’s leaning that direction. “In doing so, this Court has recognized that Ms. Spears has both the capacity and capability to identify, engage, and instruct counsel of her own choice, on her own, without the assistance of the Conservator or the Court,” writes Thoreen in the petition, which is embedded below. “If Ms. Spears has the capacity and capability to engage counsel on her own, she presumably has capacity and capability to handle other contractual and business matters. In addition to being able to choose and instruct her own attorney, Ms. Spears should be given the opportunity to hire her own business manager, financial advisor, and security to protect both her estate and her person.”
Rosengart echoed his earlier argument that Jamie’s agreeing to step aside was an effort to avoid accountability and “extract a multi-million dollar settlement” — and that hasn’t happened. “Mr. Spears has now effectively surrendered,” the attorney tells THR. “There is no settlement. To the extent Mr. Spears believes he can try to avoid accountability and justice, including sitting for a sworn deposition and answering other discovery under oath, he is incorrect and our investigation into financial mismanagement and other issues will continue.”
As for the conservatorship, since Britney has begun publicly discussing the longstanding arrangement it has become painfully clear she wants it to end. But, even now that her father-slash-conservator is supporting that desire, it’s still not a given. The probate court’s primary concern is what is best for her in this situation and — while it can be argued a conservatorship was never the right mechanism to ensure Britney and her estate were protected during a time of extreme vulnerability — that doesn’t mean abruptly ending it without a clear plan in place would be good for her.
“Overall, once the conservatorship ends, there is no formal mechanism in place to ensure a conservatee has protections in place,” Benny Roshan, chair of Greenberg Glusker’s trusts and probate litigation group. “The termination order implies the person has the wherewithal to manage her own life. That said, the option is definitely there to construct a support system to ensure there is no backsliding.”
She suggests a private professional fiduciary of Spears’ choosing could advise her on how to protect her assets, and a similar professional support system could be set up with her involvement to ensure she’s getting proper physical and mental health care. Says Roshan, “This doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition where Britney is either in the death grips of a conservator or going at it entirely solo.”
It’s unlikely, though not impossible, Penny will issue a ruling on Jamie’s petition to end the conservatorship at the next hearing on Sept. 29. There are holdover items from previous hearings as well as the petition for Jamie’s suspension or removal that not only preceded it but also are less complicated issues. It also remains to be seen who Spears would ask to step in if her father is removed, now that her initial choice has apparently declined the role.
This story was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.