Four weeks after Britney Spears’s father vehemently opposed being immediately removed or suspended, Jamie Spears made a stunning heel turn on Tuesday when he asked the court to terminate the conservatorship over his 39-year-old daughter entirely. He said in the court papers filed on September 7 that while the conservatorship has helped his daughter through a “major life crisis,” helped rehabilitate her career, and put her finances in order that now, because Britney herself has pleaded with the court to “let her have her life back,” he is requesting that Judge Brenda Penny end the conservatorship.
“As Mr. Spears has said again and again, all he wants is what is best for his daughter,” according to Jamie’s filing. “If Ms. Spears wants to terminate the conservatorship and believes that she can handle her own life, Mr. Spears believes that she should get that chance.”
Britney’s father was doing what her legal team had been requesting for months, demanding that he stand down and let go of the reins of his “racehorse” daughter, as her mother, Lynne Spears, had described Britney’s treatment in her own July filing requesting her ex-husband’s swift removal from the conservatorship. But, two expert conservatorship attorneys, who’ve taken a close look at Jamie’s termination request, say they believe it’s rife with “clever legal maneuvering.”
“I don’t think it’s legit,” says Tamar Arminak, a probate lawyer who represented Amanda Bynes’s parents in obtaining a conservatorship over their daughter. “What this is doing is almost brilliant if it wasn’t so negligent. [Deciding Britney’s fate] is a hot potato that he’s now thrown to the court and Jodi Montgomery [the conservator over Britney’s person], to be the bad guys and advocate that it’s too soon for her to be off the conservatorship.” (Montgomery declined to comment for this story.)
To Arminak, the flip-flopping nature of Jamie’s filings seems like “someone scrambling like a chicken with its head cut off.” Jamie at first refused to resign, then agreed that he would resign at some point, and now says he doesn’t need to resign but just wants the whole conservatorship dissolved, she pointed out.
“I am perplexed why his legal team thinks that this is the right and ethically competent thing to do,” Arminak says. “It’s adding so much more chaos in an already chaotic situation. A conservator who was really looking out for a conservatee and a father who was really looking out for their daughter, especially a daughter like this, with the entire world’s eyes on her, would not be throwing in more chaos.”
Sarah Wentz, a tax and wealth-planning partner at Fox Rothschild and an expert on conservatorships, agrees that Jamie’s termination petition seems more like a strategic legal move. She notes that Jamie’s petition doesn’t actually terminate the conservatorship over his daughter that has been in place since he requested it in 2008; it merely shifts that burden specifically to Judge Penny to make the ultimate decision.
“He’s turning around and putting 100 percent of the responsibility on the court to investigate whether or not the termination should move forward,” says Wentz. “It’s hard to say exactly what’s going on behind closed doors. I would say it’s a bit of clever lawyering because I think they’re trying to back [Britney] into a corner and maybe it’s part of their negotiation of trying to get him a settlement deal.”
Britney’s attorney Mat Rosengart issued a statement after Jamie’s filing that accused Jamie of trying to “extract a multimillion-dollar settlement.” But Rosengart made it clear that “[t]here is no settlement.”
In a filing as recently as August 30, Rosengart accused Jamie of attempting to extort or barter his removal as her conservator for $2 million in payments. He suggested at the time that Jamie’s requests for payments were more evidence that he should be removed as conservator over his daughter’s finances.
He also added that “to the extent Mr. Spears believes he can try to avoid accountability and justice, including sitting for a sworn deposition and answering other discovery under oath, he is incorrect and our investigation into financial mismanagement and other issues will continue.” (Rosengart declined to comment for this story.)
It is unclear at this point how Judge Penny will react or move forward at the next court hearing scheduled for September 29, now that James has placed the decision of Britney’s conservatorship in her hands. In his court papers, James asked the court to evaluate and determine if the conservatorship is no longer required without Britney having to undergo a mental or psychological evaluation. He said in light of recent changes in circumstances, such as Britney being allowed to hire her own attorney and resuming driving, that she has recently demonstrated a level of independence that calls into question whether a conservator of her person is required. Jamie did ask the court, per his daughter’s wishes, to not make Britney undergo a “psychological evaluation as a precondition to termination,” but to decide independently whether the conservatorship is in Britney’s best interest, or if grounds for a conservatorship still exist.
“One possibility is that he thinks there’s no chance that the court will reach that conclusion [to terminate the conservatorship] based on the things that are in the record that we haven’t seen. Or two, he just wants to look like the good guy,” Wentz says. “I mean, he couldn’t possibly have changed his position so dramatically in a month.”
Arminak finds it particularly telling that at no point in Jamie’s petition to the court did he include his own personal belief that Britney is ready to fully take back control of her life, and ready to take care of herself.
“As an attorney, I can tell you, I don’t file declarations on behalf of my clients when the declaration would cause them to perjure themselves and it’s not going to hold up under cross examination,” Arminak explains. “If Jamie today says he believes under penalty of perjury that she should be off the conservatorship, then why was he saying the contrary only three weeks ago?”
Both Arminak and Wentz say it is unlikely that the court will unilaterally grant Jamie’s request without conducting an independent examination. The ramifications for the court would be too great if something went wrong and it did not ensure that Britney was safe — physically, medically, and from financial abuses from third parties. If something happened to Britney because of this “crazy petition that just came out of nowhere,” Wentz adds, it would be on the front page of every newspaper.
Judge Penny will not take this evaluation lightly, but will have to be methodical in considering Jamie’s request and making sure Britney has safeguards — such as a plan regarding her security, her medical care, and over the management of her estate — in place, according to Wentz.
“Even if someone is a smart person, it would be difficult after 13 years to suddenly be in control of an empire,” Wentz says. “Now the court has to decide whether it’s appropriate, which makes you really wonder if he was overly confident that the court was going to say no. It was an easy move for him to make if he knew there was no way they were going to go along with it.”
Wentz points out that, with the recent publicized alleged battery incident between Britney and her housekeeper (for which the DA declined to file charges), there are indications that perhaps Britney might not be not ready for such a drastic immediate change in her status. As recently as last month, Jamie submitted a declaration to the court that Montgomery had called him worried about Britney’s recent behavior and overall mental health. He said she raised to him the possibility of putting Britney into a 5150 psychiatric hold, a claim that Montgomery later denied. (Under California law, the 5150 code authorizes the police or a medical-treatment professional to hold a person suffering from a mental-health disorder who is considered a danger to themselves or others for evaluation and treatment for up to 72 hours.)
Arminak said she expected Jamie’s move to backfire.
“As the captain of a ship that’s been going round and round for 13, almost 14 years, this is a very odd and dangerous way to end a conservatorship,” she says.
“That is why I’m shocked that attorneys that know the system and know the process would even dare to file something like this,” Arminak adds. “It’s really all for nothing. It proves nothing. It’s only for the media.”
“It’s only so that Jamie Spears can walk away wearing a white hat.”
Attorneys for Jamie have not yet responded to a request for comment.
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