Britney Spears’s Conservatorship Hearing Today Could Change Everything

Photo: Rob Latour/Shutterstock

Britney Spears and her legal team are headed to a downtown Los Angeles courtroom today at 1:30 p.m. PT to face off, once again, against her father, Jamie Spears, and his cadre of attorneys. Judging from the allegations raised just this week in two viral documentaries — the New York Times and FX/Hulu’s Controlling Britney and Netflix’s Britney vs. Spears — and in the pointed back-and-forth legal papers filed with the court, the encounter is expected to be anything but civil. There’s no word yet on whether the pop icon will personally weigh in at the proceedings, but by the day’s end, Britney may be one step closer to freedom than she has been in the past 13 years of her allegedly abusive conservatorship.

Britney wants her father to stop managing her money.

Despite Jamie Spears’s saying he wants the entire conservatorship terminated, he is still fighting against his immediate removal as the gatekeeper of Britney’s estate and money. Jamie has been the conservator over Britney’s finances ever since the conservatorship was established in 2008. For a time, he shared that responsibility with attorney Andrew Wallet, until Wallet resigned in 2019.

Britney’s attorney Mathew Rosengart has told Judge Brenda Penny, who is overseeing the case, that his client has asked numerous times for her father to be removed. He said in court papers that it would be the first substantial step toward Britney’s regaining her freedom and “ending the Kafkaesque nightmare imposed by her father, so that her dignity and basic liberties can be restored.”

It’s an odd paradox.

“Jamie wants to be in control of negotiations with the court that are outstanding right now,” explains Sarah Wentz, a partner at Fox Rothschild LLP who handles conservatorship for musicians. “If they suspend him or remove him and turn it over to somebody else, that person will have full access to the attorney-client records since the beginning of this conservatorship.” Wentz says that could mean another person would be in control of deciding which legal bills should be paid and not paid, depending on whether they were accrued in Britney’s best interest.

Britney and her father agree on one thing: terminating the conservatorship. But will that happen today?

Earlier this month, Jamie formally requested that the court terminate Britney’s conservatorship. In his court papers, he essentially said that it was what his daughter wanted and that he didn’t want to stand in her way. Britney’s legal team agreed that the conservatorship should be terminated but asked for time to put a plan in place before the court abruptly pulls the plug. Rosengart said in court papers that Britney wants the conservatorship terminated “expeditiously” this fall but wants first to remove Jamie and put a temporary conservator in place while they iron out a smooth transition plan.

Rosengart said that if Jamie had a “genuine epiphany” about the conservatorship no longer being necessary, it would be welcome, but he added that there is reason to believe Jamie’s motives are more about rehabilitating his reputation, avoiding suspension, and impeding Britney’s ability to further investigate his conduct since 2008.

Wentz says she does not believe Judge Penny will outright end the conservatorship today without ensuring that a plan is in place to hand over control of the singer’s multimillion-dollar estate.

“It can’t just stop,” Wentz says. “From the bills to be paid to endorsement deals, they need to put new people in place to take control of that. If they terminate the conservatorship and everybody’s just fired, then I think they realize there’s going to be a lot of stuff that could slip through the cracks.”

Britney’s legal team has brought up alleged unethical conservatorship practices raised in the latest New York Times documentary.

Rosengart has informed the court regarding the allegations raised in the latest New York Times documentary, Controlling Britney, which premiered on FX/Hulu on September 24, that Britney’s communications were monitored, including conversations with her attorney and conversations she had in the privacy of her bedroom. He told Judge Penny in his recent court papers that “Mr. Spears has crossed unfathomable lines” and that the allegations “warrant serious investigation.”

“If there’s something that potentially egregious going on … I think they will need to address that,” Wentz says. “I don’t think they can leave Jamie in place. I think they have to say, Wow, if there’s any shred of truth to this, at minimum, we need to suspend him and investigate whether this stuff was really happening.”

If Jamie is removed, will the judge appoint a temporary conservator?

That could be the plan. However, Jamie is opposing Rosengart’s request to appoint John Zabel as the temporary conservator over Britney’s estate. Zabel is a public accountant whom Rosengart has proposed should be temporarily appointed in Jamie’s place while they finalize a termination plan. Jamie’s recent court papers state that he “continues to serve faithfully as the Conservator of the Estate, as he has done for the past 13 years.” Jamie also argued that Zabel not only is a stranger to the court but is not a licensed fiduciary and does not have the experience to take over Britney’s estate, which is valued at $60 million.

Wentz says by proposing that Zabel step in temporarily, Britney’s team is trying to ensure that the transition to the end of the conservatorship is accomplished in a way that “puts her in the best position for success.” If the conservatorship isn’t terminated today, Jodi Montgomery will remain the conservator over Britney’s person for the time being.

If Jamie is suspended and removed from the case, what could happen next?

Jamie’s legal team said in court papers filed two days ago that if the court determines the conservatorship is no longer needed, it should order everyone to attend a mandatory settlement conference or a private mediation to resolve all other pending matters. Rosengart said he wants nothing of the sort. If Jamie is indeed removed from serving as Britney’s conservator, Rosengart has told the court that the removal would not stop him from conducting a full investigation into Jamie’s handling of Britney’s conservatorship and her finances.

Rosengart said in court papers that Jamie has been trying to “extract substantial quid pro quo payments” from his daughter and was seeking to avoid responding to extensive, detailed discovery. Rosengart had previously said he was determined to do a full forensic accounting of the spending of Britney’s money while she was in the conservatorship. He explained that he was particularly concerned about James’s billing Britney’s estate more than half a million dollars for “unspecified media matters” presumably having to do with the intense recent media coverage of his daughter’s situation.

Rosengart said that he planned on deposing Jamie and asking him to comply with discovery requests for relevant information and that “Ms. Spears rejects her father’s self-interested efforts at settlement.”

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Britney’s Conservatorship Hearing Today May Be Game Changer