Britney Spears to speak in court: What to know about her conservatorship case

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Britney Spears arrives at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards in New York, US, August 28, 2016. Image Credit: REUTERS

In the most anticipated hearing in the case in years, Britney Spears is expected on June 23 to address a judge overseeing the conservatorship that has controlled the pop star’s money and affairs since 2008.

If Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny does not make a last-minute decision Wednesday to seal the proceedings, Spears’ words will be heard in open court for the first time in the 13-year conservatorship.

The hearing has been eagerly awaited by the fans in the so-called #FreeBritney movement, who feel she is being controlled unfairly against her will and are likely to gather outside the courthouse in large numbers.

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In an image provided via Felicia Culotta, clockwise from top left: Lynne, Jamie, Britney, and her siblings Jamie Lynn and Bryan Spears at the Pepsi 400 Nascar race in 2001. Image Credit: NYT

Spears, who is scheduled to take part remotely, asked for the hearing so she could address the court directly.

Her court-appointed attorney, Samuel Ingham III, made the request at an April 28 hearing. He gave no indication of what the 39-year-old pop star wants to say.

But in recent court filings, Spears has sought a greater say over who runs the conservatorship, and has asked that her father, who had extensive power over her life and money for most of its existence, be removed.

Spears said through Ingham that she fears her father James Spears, and would not end a 2 1/2-year pause on her career as long as he has control over it.

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Jamie Spears, father of singer Britney Spears, leaves the Stanley Mosk Courthouse on October 24, 2012, in Los Angeles. Image Credit: AP

The judge declined to remove James Spears entirely, though he now plays a smaller role. He serves as co-conservator of her finances along with estate management firm the Bessemer Trust, and in 2019 relinquished his role as conservator over his daughter’s life choices to a court-appointed professional.

Britney Spears has spoken in court in the conservatorship before, but the courtroom was always cleared and transcripts sealed.

The last time she was known to have addressed the judge was in May 2019.

Spears has since requested greater transparency from the court since then, and Penny has allowed far more to remain public.

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In this file photo taken on October 18, 2018 singer Britney Spears attends the announcement of her new residency, “Britney: Domination” at Park MGM in Las Vegas, Nevada. Image Credit: AFP

The singer has never asked the court to end the conservatorship entirely, though she has emphasised in documents that she reserves the right to do so at any time.

It was put in place as she underwent a mental health crisis in 2008. She has credited it with saving her from financial ruin and keeping her a top flight pop star.

Her father and his attorneys have emphasised that she and her fortune, which court records put at more than $50 million, remain vulnerable to fraud and manipulation. Under the law, the burden would be on Spears to prove she is competent to be released and free to make her own choices.

Here is how conservatorships work in California:

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In this file photo taken on April 27, 2021 supporters of the FreeBritney movement rally in support of musician Britney Spears following a conservatorship court hearing in Los Angeles, California. Image Credit: AFP

WHAT IS A CONSERVATORSHIP? A court-approved arrangement in which a person or organisation is chosen to protect and manage the personal care and/or finances of a person whom a judge has found to be unable to manage his or her own affairs.

IN WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES IS A CONSERVATORSHIP APPROVED BY THE COURTS? When someone needs help taking care of his or her daily needs, managing their finances, or gives away large sums of money to strangers. Many are elderly people, or developmentally disabled, or people with temporary or permanent mental or physical disabilities. Details about the personal health of the conservatee is not made public. A court-appointed investigator is required to make a personal visit and submit a status report about the conservatorship every two years.

WHAT ARE THE DUTIES OF A CONSERVATOR? A conservator can be a relative, friend or professional entity. Duties include deciding where the conservatee will live, making arrangements for their health care, housekeeping, transportation, managing finances, paying taxes and bills, making investments, protecting assets, accounting to the court for management of finances and reporting to the court on the status of the conservatee. Any changes require court approval.

WHO ARE THE CONSERVATORS IN THE BRITNEY SPEARS CASE? The singer’s father Jamie is a joint conservator of her personal affairs with care manager Jodi Montgomery. Jamie Spears is also a joint conservator of her financial affairs with financial firm Bessemer Trust. Spears has an attorney to represent her. In 2020, Spears began her attempts to remove Jamie Spears as her personal conservator.

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Britney Spears poses at the premiere of “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood” in Los Angeles, California, US, July 22, 2019. Image Credit: Reuters

HOW MUCH FREEDOM DOES A PERSON UNDER A CONSERVATORSHP HAVE? Restrictions are determined by the court depending on individual circumstances. Since 2008, Spears has performed multiple concerts, been on several tours, recorded several albums, goes shopping, posts frequently to her Instagram account, has a boyfriend, gets an allowance and has gone on vacation.

HOW CAN A CONSERVATORSHIP BE BROUGHT TO AN END? The conservatee, or a relative or friend, can ask the judge at any time to end the conservatorship. A court appointed investigator would evaluate the case and hear from all sides. The conservatee must prove they can handle their own personal and financial affairs. The judge would make a decision. Spears has not made such a request. The court can remove a conservator who is failing to perform their duties and appoint a new one.

WHY HAS THE BRITNEY SPEARS CASE ATTRACTED SO MUCH ATTENTION? It is unusual for someone of Spears’ age and high profile to have been under such an arrangement for 13 years. Details of her mental health issues have never been revealed. The fan-based #FreeBritney movement, started in 2019, believes Spears is being held against her will and that she is sending cryptic messages through her Instagram postings. The 2021 TV documentary “Framing Britney Spears” brought wider attention to the case.

WHAT IS BRITNEY SPEARS EXPECTED TO SAY ON WEDNESDAY? Neither Spears nor any of the attorneys in the case have said what the singer plans to speak about. She is not expected to attend the Los Angeles court in person but to speak via audio and/or video link. The last time she spoke to the judge, in May 2019, the hearing was closed to the public and her testimony was sealed.