On Friday night, September 24, less than a week away from Britney Spears’s next court hearing in her 13-year-long conservatorship, Hulu and FX dropped the sequel to last year’s buzzy New York Times documentary Framing Britney Spears. The latest, also directed by Samantha Stark and produced by Liz Day and the NYT, promised to reveal “new bombshell allegations from whistleblowers who were among those in the inner circle” of the pop star’s life. In some sense, it delivers. Below, expert attorneys share their thoughts with Vulture on some of the most controversial allegations made in Controlling Britney Spears.
Britney’s phone was allegedly monitored and recorded.
According to Alex Vlasov, an employee at Black Box security, which was hired by the conservatorship, Britney was monitored 24/7. Vlasov said that he worked for Black Box security for almost 10 years as the executive assistant to the company’s president, Edan Yemini, who was head of Britney’s security. He said every request Britney made, even in her own home, was monitored and recorded. He said Britney’s “intimate relations were closely managed” and that she couldn’t do anything without the knowledge of her father Jamie, Edan, and Robin Greenhill, her business manager from Tri Star Sports and Entertainment. “It really reminded me of someone who was in prison,” Vlasov said in the documentary. He also said Britney’s conversations were used to control her. Vlasov said he asked Ednan if this was legal and was told, “Yes the court is aware of this, Britney’s lawyer is aware of this, this is for her safety and her protection.”
Vlasov said Greenhill came up with the idea to set up an iPad to mirror all of Britney’s mobile devices, including her text messages, all FaceTime calls, browser history, and photographs.
Charles Holder, attorney for Greenhill and Tri Star, tells Vulture that the allegations made against his client are false: “Neither Ms. Greenhill, nor anyone else at Tri Star, ever set up an iPad, phone, or any other device to mirror or monitor Ms. Spears’ communications.”
Conservatorship expert Tamar Arminak, who represented Amanda Bynes’s parents in their conservatorship case, says that a court can grant a court conservator powers to review communications and monitor social interactions and media.
“We would need to see if Jaime got this approved by the court before doing so,” Arminak says. “As far as the legalities, the first question is what did the court approve. What special powers did the court give Britney’s conservators? And that’s hard to figure out because everything that was done in the conservatorship since the beginning was done cloak-and-dagger style, not on the actual record. That’s the problem with the court doing everything in chambers; although private details of Britney’s life remain private that way, everything else the conservator is doing also remains secret and immune from scrutiny.”
Criminal defense attorney Richard Kaplan adds that California is a two-party state regarding the taping of phone calls and private conversations, and state law requires that both parties have knowledge that their conversation was being recorded.
“The other party would need to be aware also,” said Kaplan, who works at the Los Angeles-based Kaplan Marino firm.
Attorney Sarah Wentz, a Tax & Wealth Planning Partner at Fox Rothschild who has been handling conservatorships since 2006, including for musicians with diminished capacity, says that while it might have been legal to record if they had permission from he court, to her, it still seemed highly unethical.
“I can imagine how traumatizing it might be to know that every moment of your life was being watched,” Wentz says. “It’s kind of horrifying. It’s just not necessary.”
Wentz calls it “ unbelievably abnormal” practice to tape private calls, that she has been involved in many conservatorships over the years and could not think of a situation where this would be justified unless a person was threatening harm to themselves. Wentz says it “floored her” to think of a situation where that would have been required, especially since the conservatorship already controlled Britney’s bank account.
Her bedroom was allegedly bugged too.
Vlasov said that Black Box president Edan Yemeni also had a recording device in Britney’s bedroom that recorded all her interactions with her children and her boyfriend. He said he was given a USB drive of the recordings and was told by Yemeni to delete it. He said he declined and kept a copy.
“Any communication between her and her lawyer would be off limits and certainly there is no excuse for placing recording devices of any kind in her bedroom,” Arminak says. “Frankly, that is horrifying to read as an attorney and as a woman.”
Kaplan adds that there could be potential civil action if the recordings became public and revealed sensitive personal information, and that Spears could seek significant damages if a civil lawsuit were brought.
According to Wentz, conservatorships are supposed to be done in the least restrictive way but to still protect the conservatee; he does not think this type of recording served that purpose.
Greenhill and Tri Star’s attorney tells Vulture, “Neither Ms. Greenhill, nor anyone else at Tri Star, ever ever recorded Ms. Spears’ communications with anyone, nor monitored her communications with anyone — including Ms. Spears’ boyfriends and/or her mother — either in her bedroom or anywhere else.”
Britney tried to hire her own lawyer when she was in rehab.
Britney asked a lawyer to sneak into her rehab and pretend to be a plumber because she didn’t think anyone would let him in, according to the documentary. The lawyer declined. Britney reportedly texted a friend saying she didn’t want to be at the facility and that her lawyer (then court-appointed attorney Samuel Ingham) doesn’t even work for her, according to Liz Day, a producer of the documentary.
Day also detailed how, in a court transcript obtained by the NYT and read during the documentary, Ingham allegedly told the court that Britney expressed to him a desire to marry, have children, and to retire and to change her lifestyle, and that she believed that the conservatorship precluded her from doing that. Judge Reva Goetz, who previously oversaw the conservatorship, said, “I don’t believe we made any orders about the right to marry but you may not want to tell her that,” according to the NYT’s transcript of the proceedings.
In that transcript, Judge Goetz said she would consider ending the conservatorship if Britney established a healthy relationship with a therapist and returned one year of clean drug tests, but that she would not guarantee it, according to the documentary. Ingham then raised the idea of removing Jamie from the conservatorship and that Jamie might still be drinking. Jamie’s attorney said he had been taking regular alcohol tests. But when Ingham said Britney wanted Jamie to take random tests, Judge Goetz said, “Who is she to be demanding of anybody?” according to the transcript of the proceedings obtained by the NYT.
She lived in constant fear of punishment.
Tish Yates, Britney’s head of wardrobe from 2008-2010 and 2013-2018, said Britney once had a breakdown going to the stage for a show when there was pot smoke in the audience. Yates said she was so frightened and stressed that it would make her fail a drug test. Yates said she calmed Britney down but that she needed approval before she spoke to Britney.
“If she pushed back a little bit they pushed harder,” said Yates. “Then, the yelling got louder. And then Jamie would come up and say, ‘No you’re not having this,’ and then it would escalate to not having the boys.”
“It’s not the first time we are hearing that Britney was threatened with not seeing her children if she didn’t comply with what others demanded of her,” Arminak says. “If that is true, that’s an absolute abuse of the conservatorship powers, and it’s an abuse of a mother’s rights. I wonder about the effect it had on her children, to have their mother kept away from them as a mechanism of control over her. All these new details are starting to shed light on why Jaime may have had an issue with his grandson, resulting in a restraining order and tensions within the family.”
Wentz says it doesn’t bode well that Britney didn’t feel comfortable just having a rational conversation with her conservatorship — and that the alleged behavior of the conservatorship was not only against her best interest but, in fact, seemed like it would be the cause of harm. “It sounds absolutely awful that it would put her in a situation where she was that scared,” Wentz says. “It was all taken way too far and the judgment of these people doing it should really be questioned.”
Britney was allegedly told she didn’t have enough money for sushi or sneakers.
Despite Britney earning millions per year from her Las Vegas residency at the time, Yates said that when Britney wanted sushi one day for dinner, Greenhill told her it was too expensive. She recalled another day when Britney wanted a pair of Sketchers sneakers but she was told that Britney didn’t have enough money for them. Yates said she secretly bought them for her and just told her she would cover it by expensing them to the wardrobe department.
Greenhill and Tri Star’s attorney tells Vulture, “Neither Ms. Greenhill, nor anyone else at Tri Star, ever forbade Ms. Spears from buying sushi or a pair of Sketchers for any reason.”
According to Wentz, “at some point along the way they forgot who’s money it was. It’s completely unnecessary. The amount of money she was making, she could have sushi for every meal. I mean, who cares?”
He continues: “It’s just a crazy thing that they thought these were appropriate decisions and somehow in her best interests.”
Jamie, Ingham, Yemini, and Fmr. Judge Reva Goetz have not responded to a request to provide comment.
More From This Series
- Britney Spears Says She’s Afraid of Making a Mistake Now That She’s Free
- Britney Spears’s Father Jamie Suspended From Conservatorship After 13 Years
- The Internet Erupts in #FreeBritney Celebration