Britney Spears will directly address Los Angeles court on conservatorship
Britney Spears will directly address a Los Angeles courtroom on Wednesday, offering rare testimony in the case of the controversial conservatorship that has governed the pop star’s life for 13 years.
The hearing has drawn interest from fans across the globe, who have for years organized a campaign under the hashtag #FreeBritney to protest the unusual legal arrangement that has stripped the singer of her independence since 2008. The conservatorship has given her father, Jamie Spears, control over her estate, career and other aspects of her personal life.
The hearing comes one day after the New York Times reported on confidential documents revealing that Spears has for years strongly objected to the conservatorship and the many powers her father has had over her.
The 39-year-old star almost never participates in the court proceedings, but her lawyer this year told the judge she wanted to speak out and requested a hearing “on an expedited basis”. It is unclear what specific issues she intends to address. The hearing at 1.30pm local time is expected to draw a large crowd of supporters, though Spears is planning to appear remotely.
Conservatorship is a type of court-appointed guardianship intended for people who can no longer make decisions for themselves, typically older and infirm people. But critics have argued that the process can be exploited and have pointed to Spears’s case as an example of such abuse.
Spears’s arrangement has faced intense scrutiny in the months since the release of Framing Britney Spears, a New York Times-produced documentary that chronicled the fraught process that led the courts to place the singer under a conservatorship. The film cast a harsh light on the abusive paparazzi and media that aggressively covered Spears’s mental health challenges, and also depicted her father as being largely absent from her life until he took control of her estate amid the singer’s struggles.
A lawyer who claimed to have met with Spears in 2008 told the film-makers that she had said at the time she did not want her father as a conservator. The documentary further highlighted the apparent contradictions of her arrangement – that she could be performing sold-out shows and making millions, but also be considered incapable of making basic decisions about her health and finances.
Spears’s lawyers, appointed by the court, filed for Jamie to be removed as a conservator last year, alleging that the singer was “afraid of her father” and claiming she would not perform while he continued to exercise control of her estate. Jamie is a co-conservator of the estate alongside a corporate fiduciary, known as Bessemer Trust.
Her father had previously acted as a personal conservator, giving him authority over her medical and mental health treatment, but a professional licensed conservator has taken over that job.
The Times report on Tuesday revealed that Spears told a court investigator in 2016 that the conservatorship had “become an oppressive and controlling tool against her” and she had raised concerns that the arrangement gave her father authority over who she dated and befriended, how she designed her kitchen and how much money she was given as a weekly allowance. She also said she was forced to perform while sick with a 104F fever.
#FreeBritney activists, who were featured in the documentary, have pushed for Jamie to be ousted and for the conservatorship to be entirely dissolved.
“I want her to be able to speak freely from her heart, and I’m praying that the judge actually listens,” said Junior Olivas, a #FreeBritney advocate, before the hearing. “The whole world is watching this case, and the time is now for Britney to really let them know what she wants.”
The 33-year-old longtime fan, who appeared in the documentary, has for years rallied outside the courtroom in support of the singer.
“In the beginning, no one paid attention or laughed us off … but finally people are paying attention and actually understanding that something is wrong here.” The revelations this week added fuel to their cause, he said: “She was crying for help but nobody was listening.”
Megan Radford, another #FreeBritney advocate, noted that male celebrities have not faced the same kind of scrutiny and loss of autonomy when they have suffered public breakdowns.
“It’s dangerously stigmatizing to say someone who may or may not have mental health struggles needs to have their rights stripped away from them and reassigned to another human being,” she added. The Times report, she said, made clear that the “justice system has failed Britney … She has been totally robbed of 13 years of her life for no reason.”
Spears appeared to endorse the #FreeBritney movement in a statement from her lawyer last year that said, “Britney welcomes and appreciates the informed support of her many fans.” Her father had dismissed the campaign as a conspiracy theory.
A representative for Jamie’s lawyer declined to comment on the New York Times report on Tuesday. His attorney told reporters in February, “Jamie Spears has diligently and professionally carried out his duties as one of Britney’s conservators, and his love for his daughter and dedication to protecting her is clearly apparent to the court.”