Britney Spears conservatorship ends after nearly 14 years
LOS ANGELES - Britney Spears is finally free after a judge on Friday ruled in favor of terminating the court conservatorship that has controlled her life, money and affairs for nearly 14 years.
"The conservatorship of the person and estate of Brittany Jean Spears is no longer required," Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny declared in court on Friday.
After the hearing, Spears took to Twitter, saying, "I love my fans so much it's crazy," adding, "I think I'm gonna cry the rest of the day."
"This is a monumental day for Britney Spears," said Spears' lawyer Mathew Rosengart. "I’m so proud of her… I thank her for her courage and poise and power. I thank her for our relationship."
He continued, "Not only is this momentous for Britney, but she helped shine a line on — not only this conservatorship which was corrupted by her father James Spears — but she helped shine a light on conservatorships and guardianships from coast to coast, from California to New York, and that took a tremendous amount of insight, courage and grace."
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"The most notable question that we've asked, on behalf of Britney, of Tri Star is the following, a very simple question: How much money did you take from the estate?" said Rosengart.
Tri Star Sports and Entertainment Group was the company behind Spears’ former business managers. In a New York Times documentary about the #FreeBritney movement, claims were made that Tri Star put a listening device in her bedroom. The group also denied any role in or knowledge of any surveillance of the superstar.
The complexity of the conservatorship was two-fold: one part that covers her estate, including her finances, while the other is of her person, which includes her health and well-being.
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When Spears was entered into the conservatorship in February 2008, her father, James "Jamie" Spears, was appointed the conservator of both her person and her estate. In 2019, Britney's father gave up the role of conservator over her person and life decisions, maintaining control only over her finances. Jamie was suspended from conservator of her estate in September by Judge Penny. After the suspension, the position was temporarily given to John Zabel, an accountant chosen by Spears and her attorney.
Regaining her personal and financial powers after so many years will take some untangling, and the process could take months. Jodi Montgomery, a court-appointed professional who has acted as conservator over Spears' personal matters since 2019, along with therapists and doctors, have created a care plan for the transition.
The singer’s attorney has vowed to pursue an investigation of Jamie’s handling of the conservatorship even after it ends.
However, after word of the termination on Friday, Rosengart said, "Many people have asked about whether we will continue to investigate Mr. Spears. The answer ultimately is up to my client Britney."
He could take action in civil court and has suggested he may even turn over his findings to law enforcement for consideration of criminal charges. Jamie has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
Spears will likely hire financial managers, assistants and attorneys to perform many of the same duties previously performed by the conservatorship. But their decisions would be subject to her approval. And she could hire and fire them at will.
Here’s a look at how conservatorships operate, what’s unusual about hers, and why she and so many fans have worked to #FreeBritney.
How do conservatorships work?
California law defines a conservatorship as a situation where "a judge appoints a responsible person or organization (called the 'conservator') to care for another adult (called the 'conservatee') who cannot care for himself or herself or manage his or her own finances."
When a person is considered to have a severely diminished mental capacity, a court can step in and grant someone the power to make financial decisions and major life choices for them.
California law says a conservatorship, called a guardianship in some states, is justified for a "person who is unable to provide properly for his or her personal needs for physical health, food, clothing, or shelter," or for someone who is "substantially unable to manage his or her own financial resources or resist fraud or undue influence."
The conservator may be a family member, a close friend or a court-appointed professional.
Several states have recently used the attention that Spears has brought to the issue to reform their conservatorship laws.
How did Britney Spears' conservatorship work?
With a fortune of more than $50 million comes secrecy, and the court closely guards the inner workings of Spears’ conservatorship.
Some aspects have been revealed in documents. The conservatorship has the power to restrict her visitors. It arranges and oversees visits with her two teenage sons, whose father has full custody. It can take out restraining orders in her name, which it has used more than once to keep away interlopers deemed shady.
It has the power to make her medical decisions and her business deals. She said at a June hearing that she has been compelled to take medication against her will, has been kept from having an intrauterine device for birth control removed and has been required to undertake performances when she didn’t want to.
Spears also said she had been denied the right to get married or have another child, but she has since gotten engaged to longtime boyfriend Sam Asghari.
Who has had power over Britney Spears in the conservatorship?
The ultimate power in the conservatorship, and the sole power to end it, falls to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny.
Before his suspension, her father James Spears had the lion’s share of day-to-day power over his daughter’s choices for 13 years. In 2019, he gave up the role of conservator over her life decisions, maintaining control only over her finances. He has now been now been replaced by John Zabel, an accountant chosen by Britney Spears and her attorney.
Jodi Montgomery, a court-appointed professional, has acted as conservator over her personal matters since 2019.
Why have so many called to #FreeBritney?
Some fans have objected to the conservatorship since shortly after it began. But the movement, and the #FreeBritney hashtag, truly took hold early in 2019, when some believed she was being forced into a mental health hospital against her will.
They pored over her social media posts to extract clues about her well-being, and coalesced into a movement that has arguably shifted public opinion.
Hearings bring dozens of protesters to the courthouse, carrying signs like "CONSERVATORSHIP IS SLAVERY" and "THIS IS TOXIC."
Tearful fans have felt vindicated by two dramatic speeches she gave this summer, in which she confirmed many of their suspicions. And they felt triumphant when her father was removed. After that hearing, she thanked them in an Instagram post: " #FreeBritney movement … I have no words … because of you guys and your constant resilience in freeing me from my conservatorship … my life is now in that direction !!!!!"
Why was the conservatorship imposed in the first place?
In 2007 and 2008, shortly after she became a mother, she began to have very public mental struggles, with media outlets obsessed over each moment. Hordes of paparazzi aggressively followed her every time she left her house, and she no longer seemed able to handle it.
She attacked one cameraman’s car with an umbrella. She shaved her own head at a salon. She lost custody of her children. When she refused to turn over her boys after a visit, she was hospitalized and put on a psychiatric hold. The conservatorship was put in place within days.
Why has Britney's conservatorship gone on so long?
A conservatorship can always be dissolved by the court. But it’s rare that a person achieves their own release from one, as Britney Spears appears on the verge of doing.
They can last decades because the circumstances that lead to them, like traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s, or dementia, are not things people just bounce back from. The mandatory secrecy of medical records has kept murky the exact reasons why Britney Spears has remained in hers, but it’s clear that it involves psychiatric issues.
Spears’ father and his attorneys justified the continued conservatorship by arguing that she was especially susceptible to people who seek to take advantage of her money and fame.
How does Britney feel about the conservatorship?
For years it was largely a mystery. But allowed to speak publicly in court in June, she called the conservatorship "abusive" and "stupid" and says it does her "way more harm than good."
RELATED: Britney Spears asks to end her conservatorship: 'I just want my life back'
"After I’ve told the whole world I’m okay, it’s a lie. I’m not happy, I can’t sleep, I’m depressed, I cry every day," Spears revealed.
"I'd like to be able to share my story with the world," she said. "I want to be able to be heard. By making me keep this in for so long, it's not good for my heart. It concerns me I'm not allowed to be able to heard. I have the right to use my voice. My attorney says I can't let the public know what they did to me... I shouldn't be able to be in a conservatorship. The laws need to change. Ma'am, I've worked since I was 17 years old. I can't go somewhere unless I meet someone every week in an office."
The singer blamed her ignorance for not understanding how to end the conservatorship herself.
"I truly believe this conservatorship is abusive. There are thousands of abusive conservatorships," Spears said. "I shouldn’t be in a conservatorship if I can work for myself and pay other people."
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.