A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has cleared Britney Spears to hire her own lawyer in the long drawn-out battle over her conservatorship. And the pop star has chosen Mathew S. Rosengart, a prominent Hollywood lawyer and former federal prosecutor, to take up her case.
This was the outcome of a hearing on Wednesday in a Los Angeles courtroom, where the court had a long list of odds and ends to tie up after Spears' blistering public testimony in June, in which she described her life under the conservatorship.
The judge approved the resignation of Spears' longtime court-appointed lawyer, Samuel D. Ingham III, as well as the resignation of the wealth management company Bessemer Trust, which had previously signed on to be the co-conservator of Spears' estate. This leaves Spears' father, Jamie Spears, the sole conservator of her financial dealings.
Britney Spears, who joined the hearing by phone, reiterated to the court that she wants her father out of her conservatorship. She said that the arrangement "is allowing my dad to ruin my life" and said she is scared of him. Spears talked about feeling trapped and forcefully medicated, and she described an instance in which he showed up to her house drunk.
"I'm here to get rid of my dad and charge him with conservatorship abuse," she said.
Spears' being allowed to choose her own lawyer is being hailed as a win by #FreeBritney activists and disability rights organizations. This likely marks the beginning of the full-force effort to end Spears' conservatorship. TMZ first reported last week that Spears had approached Rosengart, and he was in the courtroom Wednesday ready to hit the ground running, saying he will file a petition to remove Jamie Spears from the conservatorship.
But while the wheels may be in motion on getting him removed from the legal arrangement, Britney Spears has said that she wants the entire conservatorship to end only if it doesn't require a mental evaluation or test.
Spears' case has drawn attention from politicians too, with everyone from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, voicing their support for Spears. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., was at the rally outside the courtroom and spoke in front of #FreeBritney activists in support of the movement.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
When Britney Spears spoke in court last month describing her life under conservatorship, it set off a wave of legal maneuvers. Some in her orbit have tried to resign. Others are hoping the pop star can choose her own legal representation. Spears is back in court today, and NPR's Andrew Limbong is here to fill us in on what to look out for.
Andrew, what exactly is going to be happening in court?
ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: So there's going to be a few things happening. Firstly, Bessemer Trust, the wealth management company that had signed on to be a co-conservator of Britney Spears's estate - you know, that is her money - has asked to resign from the position. If the judge allows it, then that would leave Britney Spears's dad, Jamie Spears, as the sole conservator of the estate. But, you know, what's likely to have the biggest impact on the future of this conservatorship case is the question of who will be Britney Spears's lawyer. So her longtime court-appointed lawyer, Samuel Ingham III, requested to resign last week, asking the court to appoint another lawyer in his place. But there are, you know, other petitions on the table from Britney Spears's mom, Lynne Spears, as well as Jodi Montgomery, the conservator of Spears's person, trying, you know, different routes to get Britney to be able to choose her own lawyer.
CORNISH: All right. A lot of names. A lot of...
CORNISH: ...Moving parts that cover the Spears estate versus her, right? Can you help us understand this?
LIMBONG: Yeah, sure. It's kind of complicated. So Jodi Montgomery is a licensed personal fiduciary and care professional, and she was appointed the conservator of Spears's person back in 2009 when Spears's dad was going through a health crisis. So she would be dealing with personal matters, like Britney Spears's health care and safety, and checking in on Britney Spears's basic needs like food and shelter. Montgomery actually filed some paperwork recently that included some text messages from Britney Spears that essentially said Spears wants to keep Montgomery around, you know, to help her through this whole process.
On the other side of things is Britney Spears's dad, Jamie Spears, who controls the money. So everything that goes on in the world of Britney Spears that involves money - you know, that's everything from signing contracts to work deals or paying lawyers and doctors - that goes through the estate. And in Britney's public comments back in June, she was pretty clear that she wanted that relationship nixed and her father out of her money dealings.
CORNISH: Now, what happens after this hearing?
LIMBONG: Well, presumably, once the dust settles on the question of who will be Britney Spears's lawyer, it would be up to them to follow through on Britney's wishes. You know, they'd have to file the - to petition for the conservatorship to end and to prove to the court that Britney is ready and able to take care of herself, which, you know, even though she's a mega-famous pop star and has earned a bunch of money, might still be hard to prove just because of how these things work.
CORNISH: People interested in Britney Spears as a pop star are obviously watching this, but because of the spotlight on this case, there are people watching who are kind of interested in guardianship law, too, right?
LIMBONG: Yeah. So the ACLU, along with 25 disability rights organizations, filed an amicus brief ahead of this afternoon's hearing, supporting Britney Spears's right to pick her own lawyer. In the statement announcing that, the groups said that a conservatorship like this, quote, "strips people with disabilities of their civil liberties." And these cases don't often get this much media attention, and so a lot of different people have a lot riding on this.
CORNISH: That's NPR arts reporter Andrew Limbong.
Thanks so much.
LIMBONG: Thanks, Audie.
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