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In the Britney Spears Case, It’s Time to Negotiate

No, Britney is not free.

At least not yet. The acknowledgment from Jamie Spears, the singer’s father, that he doesn’t believe a public battle over his continued service as conservator is in her best interest and that he “intends to work with the Court and his daughter’s new attorney to prepare for an orderly transition” is certainly a watershed moment in the 13-year-old case. That said, what Jamie had to say in the other 99 percent of his latest court papers shouldn’t be glossed over as meaningless. In sum: There’s no timetable on the transition, a lot of defensiveness about decisions made for Britney and reaction to what mother Lynne Spears said, and perhaps most importantly, the filing serves as opposition to his immediate suspension and removal.

So what’s going on? And how does this end? Here’s one informed theory …

On July 14, the day that Britney got permission from L.A. County Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny to hire Mathew Rosengart of Greenberg Traurig as her new counsel, a suggestion was publicly floated.

“Does anybody really believe Mr. Spears’ continued involvement is in the best interest of Britney Spears?” Rosengart said in court. “If he loves his daughter, it is time to step aside.”

A few weeks later, Rosengart made his first big move in the case. Notably, it wasn’t to actually end the conservatorship. It was a petition to remove Jamie. And what stuck out about this petition — at least for someone who regularly reads this stuff — was a reference to the criminal code (specifically, Title 18), talk of financial misconduct and a warning that should he oppose his removal, fees would have to come not from the estate, but directly from his pocket.

In short, Rosengart was attempting to add reasons over and above “fatherly love” as to why Jamie should willingly step aside.

Why? Well, Britney certainly has the world on her side right now, and she might have a reasonable legal case as well, but what’s in the singer’s best interest ultimately is a subjective call in the hands of a single individual — the judge, who certainly hears the #FreeBritney movement but also rules based on the evidence (including a potential mental examination). And, for the time being, Jamie occupies the second-most-important seat to the judge’s and directs much of the presentation of that evidence — and what’s more, he has a firm (some would say annoying) hand in Britney’s life choices. Better to get him out of the way as a prelude to ultimately winding down the conservatorship. Plus, at this juncture, it’s better to focus on him rather than her.

The strategy makes sense, and given that Rosengart is a former federal prosecutor who routinely attempts to go on the offense in his cases (like the time he threatened Julianna Margulies), the move from him isn’t particularly surprising.

Then again, was invoking the criminal code really that wise?

Yeah, there might be a prosecutor out there who wants to make a name for themselves and intervene in this domestic drama. But that’s still on the iffy side. Meanwhile, in the event that Jamie does leave and the estate is prepared for dissolution, there would be a final accounting of income and expenses. Would Jamie really want to leave his seat at the table when that discussion begins? With the prospect of a criminal referral out there?

So yeah, Jamie is now saying he’s ready to step away. But no, he’s not giving any sort of indication of when that will be or under what circumstances. He can slow walk this if he wishes.

“Jamie’s willingness to voluntarily resign is intended to make the petition moot in hopes that the court does not entertain suspension,” says Vatche Zetjian at Jeffer Mangels.

This may very well be an invitation for exit negotiations. Meaning, any fees needing reimbursement and a way that he can exit without fear of what could happen subsequently.

Now comes a lot of posturing as both sides sense the endgame. The Spears camp will wish to ride momentum by leveraging its main advantage — the public — highlighting to friendly reporters the fact that Jamie is on his way out. But the reality is that the process may be slower than everyone realizes.

“It’s easy to believe that Mr. Spears needs to seek shelter somewhere for things that supposedly went on during his tenure as conservator,” agrees Michael Stutman, a family lawyer in New York. “He is vulnerable to an audit type of proceeding. It’s easy to believe that there are transactions that he engaged in that don’t withstand scrutiny, so he is probably looking for a release or some sort of immunity from that type of investigation.”

This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.