Britney Spears returns to court this week: Where she stands, and what could happen
After 13 years, Britney Spears might be on the verge of liberation.
The pop star returns to court this week for another hearing in the ongoing case of her conservatorship, which has been in place since February 2008. The new court date arrives amid a media frenzy surrounding the controversial arrangement — three documentaries about Spears' singular case have dropped in the last five days alone — and with the ultimate question on the table: Will the conservatorship be terminated?
It very well might. The two dearest wishes of Spears herself, as she expressed in court over the summer, are that her father Jamie Spears' power over her be taken away and that the conservatorship end altogether; petitions for both those developments have been filed in recent weeks. Even in just the past few days, however, the situation has gotten even more complicated.
The case has evolved rapidly since a hearing on June 23, in which Spears addressed the judge directly for the first time in two years. In explosive testimony, the singer enumerated some of the gross indignities she claims to have suffered under the conservatorship, expressed her explicit wish that it come to an end, and asked that she be allowed to hire her own lawyer, among other things. (Spears had never been permitted to retain her own counsel, having been represented by court-appointed attorney Samuel D. Ingham III since the inception of the conservatorship.)
In the weeks that followed, there was a flurry of activity surrounding the arrangement. A shocking exposé in The New Yorker provided an impeccably researched, damning account of the history of the conservatorship, and the singer's manager Larry Rudolph and Ingham both resigned. Spears was allowed to hire former federal prosecutor Mathew Rosengart to represent her, and he has aggressively pursued changes to the arrangement ever since; his immediate priority has been the removal of Jamie Spears as conservator of his daughter's $60 million estate.
Jamie has effectively retained control over decisions regarding Britney's career, personal life, health care, and finances for the last 13 years. Even before the June court date, it was clear from the little information that had been made public that Britney wanted her father out. That day, in addition to saying she wanted the conservatorship to end altogether (which has been her desire for many years, as additional reporting from The New York Times and the Netflix documentary Britney vs. Spears have corroborated), she told the judge, "My dad and anyone involved in this conservatorship and my management who played a huge role in punishing me — ma'am, they should be in jail."
Weeks later, at the July 14 court hearing where Judge Brenda Penny approved her request to hire Rosengart, Spears said, "I would like to charge my father with conservatorship abuse," and said of the conservatorship, "if this is not abuse, I don't know what is."
That allegation gained strength this past weekend with the release of Controlling Britney Spears, the New York Times-produced follow-up to February's Framing Britney Spears, the release of which put a national spotlight on Spears' legal battle. (Both documentaries are available to stream on Hulu.) The new film, directed again by Framing Britney Spears filmmaker Samantha Stark, incorporated interviews with a onetime tour costume designer and the former assistant to Britney's head of security — the latter of which is especially shocking. Controlling Britney Spears alleges that Jamie and the conservatorship team secretly planted a recording device in Britney's bedroom and tracked all communications on her phone, among other abuses.
After the release of the documentary, Rosengart emphasized the need to remove Jamie from his role as conservator. "Mr. Spears has crossed unfathomable lines," he wrote in a Monday court filing. "While they are not evidence, the allegations warrant serious investigation." He called for Jamie to be "suspended on September 29; followed by the prompt termination of the conservatorship."
For his part, Jamie Spears has always maintained that he loves his daughter and has spent the last 13 years looking out for her best interests. In August, he filed court documents saying he would be "willing to step down" as conservator "when the time is right"; weeks later, he filed to end the conservatorship entirely. In a statement shared with EW, Rosengart called the latter petition "a massive legal victory for Britney Spears, as well as complete vindication" — but he didn't let Jamie off the hook entirely.
"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," Rosengart's statement continued. "Our investigation into financial mismanagement and other issues will continue." Last week Rosengart filed documents affirming that Britney supports her father's request to dissolve the conservatorship, adding that she plans to file her own formal petition to terminate after "her father's toxic presence (and his ability to object to termination) was removed." She hopes, he wrote, for the conservatorship to be dismantled and for her to be entirely emancipated by the fall. On Dec. 2, she will turn 40.
Judge Penny is expected to address all these filings on Wednesday.
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- Framing Britney Spears director Samantha Stark reacts to pop star's testimony: 'This felt so powerful'
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