Britney Spears addresses court this week: Where her conservatorship case stands
This story has been updated with new reporting from The New York Times.
It's been a while, but Britney Spears is ready to break the ice.
The embattled pop star - who still lives under the legal guardianship established in 2008 that grants her father Jamie Spears control over her life, career, and multimillion-dollar fortune - will address the court directly during her conservatorship case's June 23 hearing, at which she is expected to appear remotely. The last time Spears expressed her wishes in regards to the arrangement was in a request for substantial changes to its terms in a court filing last summer.
At the case's most recent hearing, in April, Spears' court-appointed lawyer Samuel D. Ingham III filed a request that the singer be allowed to speak for herself, per the New York Times. "The conservatee has requested that I seek from the court a status hearing at which she can address the court directly," Ingham asked Los Angeles Superior Court judge Brenda Penny, also requesting the date be scheduled on an "expedited basis." Penny set the hearing for this week, and it could mark a turning point in Spears' complicated, increasingly controversial case.
Though it has been in place since early 2008, Spears' conservatorship has attracted fresh attention in recent months. In February, the release of FX's New York Times-produced documentary Framing Britney Spears (now streaming on Hulu) landed explosively, prompting think pieces across the internet, messages of celebrity support, and even an apology from Justin Timberlake. The Samantha Stark-directed film served as a jarring reassessment of the popular conception of Spears, as it shone a spotlight not only on her conservatorship case, but also the misogynistic mid-aughts celebrity culture that insidiously reshaped her image and legacy, ultimately contributing to the struggles that eventually brought about the guardianship.
In early 2008, following a public and heavily ridiculed breakdown, Britney's father Jamie Spears was named sole conservator of her person and co-conservator of her estate (the latter at first with attorney Andrew Wallet, who exited the arrangement in 2019, and since November of last year alongside bank Bessemer Trust, at Britney's request). After Jamie suffered health issues in 2019, Britney's care manager Jodi Montgomery temporarily took over his role as conservator of her person; last summer, a court filing expressed that Britney "strongly prefers" Montgomery be permanently appointed to the role and her father not resume it, and in March of this year, her legal team officially requested Jamie's resignation in that position. The "Lucky" singer is not legally allowed to make significant decisions regarding her career, finances, or personal life without the oversight of her conservator.
As she has slowly become more expressive - however indirectly, mostly through court filings - about the conservatorship, Spears' desire to reduce her father's involvement has emerged as the clearest takeaway. In November, Ingham reportedly told judge Penny in court, "My client has informed me that she is afraid of her father," and her repeated requests for checks on Jamie's power (in the appointments of Montgomery and Bessemer Trust) indicate a wish that he wield less control over the various aspects of her life.
On Tuesday, The New York Times published a story further detailing the history of Britney's attempts to scale back or end the conservatorship and to remove her father from his powerful position within it, citing newly obtained confidential court records. As the piece reveals: "She articulated she feels the conservatorship has become an oppressive and controlling tool against her," a court investigator wrote in a 2016 report, in which Spears also indicated that her father was "obsessed" with her and with maintaining his close control over her, and that "she wanted the conservatorship terminated as soon as possible."
Following the release of Framing Britney Spears, Jamie Spears' lawyer Vivian Thoreen appeared on Good Morning America to defend his role in the conservatorship, adding that "anytime Britney wants to end her conservatorship she can ask her lawyer to file a petition to terminate it." It sounds like a simple step, though as Thoreen herself says in Framing Britney Spears (for which she gave a talking-head interview during a gap in her time on Jamie Spears' legal team): "Of the cases I've been involved in, I have not seen a conservatee who has successfully terminated a conservatorship."
In the time since Spears was first placed under the guardianship over 13 years ago, she released four studio albums (two of which she toured), filmed a season of The X-Factor as a judge, and performed her smash-hit Vegas residency show "Piece of Me" for four straight years. It is unusual for such a visibly functional person to be bound by a legal conservatorship, and in response to that apparent disconnect, some of the "Overprotected" singer's fans organized in 2019 to launch the #FreeBritney movement, which has gained momentum in recent months. The stated aims of the movement, which Jamie Spears has called a "conspiracy theory," are "to end the conservatorship of Britney Spears, raise awareness about conservatorship abuse, and advocate reform of the probate court system." These fans have protested outside the courthouse during Spears' hearings and even held virtual rallies during quarantine; according to the movement's website, its followers plan to gather during Spears' court date on Wednesday.
Britney Spears has not given an interview in years and rarely elected to speak in court. Ostensibly, her best method of publicly communicating could be her social media, though a vocal contingent of fans speculates that the posts to her verified accounts, including her popular Instagram - which often shares videos of Spears dancing at home accompanied by long, idiosyncratic captions - are yet another aspect of her life not within her control. Her social media channels have not provided any meaningful comment on the increasingly fraught story of her legal situation, and have been cryptically critical of the documentary.
Time will tell what the "Stronger" singer will have to say when she finally has the floor, but, as Ingham wrote in a September court filing, "it is not an exaggeration to say that the whole world is watching."