Judge: Britney Spears Can Choose Her Own Lawyer In Conservatorship Case

Jul 15, 2021
Originally published on July 15, 2021 8:16 am
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SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Britney Spears got a major win yesterday in her fight against her conservatorship, which for the past 13 years has given her very little legal control over her life. A Los Angeles judge is allowing her to choose her own lawyer. That's after her longtime court-appointed attorney resigned. And this isn't just frivolous pop star news. It raises larger questions about the use and abuse of legal conservatorships and guardianships.

To tell us more, we have NPR's Andrew Limbong. Hi, Andrew.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Hey, Sacha.

PFEIFFER: So give us a sense how significant this is for Britney Spears and the bigger legal implications.

LIMBONG: So it's a huge step for her fight against her conservatorship. If you think back to her first big public testimony a few weeks ago where she said very clearly, you know, I want this conservatorship to end, it was kind of curious that her court-appointed lawyer at the time, Samuel Ingham III, didn't file a petition, you know, to sort of get that in motion as soon as possible. And in fact, he never did. And that led a lot of people - that led a lot of people to question his, like, loyalty. You know, was it to Britney Spears and her best interests or was it to her father, Jamie Spears, who's been sort of driving the conservatorship? And even before that testimony, new reporting revealed that she had been trying to get out of this arrangement for years and there had been no movement at all.

So this new guy, her new lawyer, Mathew Rosengart, he's kind of a hot shot. You know, he shows up a lot on those, like, top Hollywood power lawyer lists. He's a former federal prosecutor and was in the courtroom in person yesterday ready to go. And he told the court he'd be filing a petition to remove Jamie Spears from the conservatorship and said that his ultimate goal was for the conservatorship to end entirely.

PFEIFFER: At the last hearing, Britney herself was present, gave some dramatic testimony about being forced to take lithium, forced to have an IUD birth control device. Did she say - was she there this time? And what did she say, if so?

LIMBONG: So she joined in by phone. And so she reiterated a lot of what she had to say back in June - you know, that the conservatorship left her depressed and exhausted. And, you know, she talked about feeling trapped and forcibly medicated and called her treatment cruelty. You know, it was another emotional moment. But this time, her focus was pretty much squarely at her father. You know, she said that she was scared of him and that she was - he was using this legal arrangement to ruin her life. And she mentioned how he just showed up one day at her house drunk. And, you know, there's yet to be any formal moves on this. But she did say that she wanted to press charges against him for abuse.

PFEIFFER: And it's not just her father. She's basically said other people have taken advantage of my situation as well.

LIMBONG: Yeah. Everybody else in her orbit is sort of taking advantage of her and, you know, also getting paid by her. But there's sort of multiple characters in play here. There's another conservator. Her name is Jodi Montgomery. She's in charge of Britney's health. You know, that's like basics like food and shelter, whereas Jamie Spears, her dad, is in charge of her estate, so like her money and all the financial transactions. And the two of them have been sort of sniping at each other back-and-forth through court documents, you know, about money and about, you know, other things. But from what we can tell, Britney Spears has a much better relationship with Jodi Montgomery than she does with her father. You know, there's paperwork of Britney sending texts to Jodi saying like, hey, I need you to help me through all of this and get me through to the end.

PFEIFFER: And what's next? And by the way, the ACLU has weighed in in some context, hasn't it?

LIMBONG: Yeah. A lot of disability rights organizations teamed up with them to file an amicus brief in supporting Britney Spears to find her own lawyer. They see this as a big, you know, civil rights movement. And like her, being able to choose her own lawyer was a big win in their camp.

PFEIFFER: That is NPR arts desk reporter Andrew Limbong. Andrew, thank you very much.

LIMBONG: Thanks a lot, Sacha.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OVERPROTECTED")

BRITNEY SPEARS: (Singing) Overprotected. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.