Pop star Britney Spears is actively fighting her father’s role as the conservator of her estate and has apparently taken a professional break to protest his broad control over her career and finances.
In Los Angeles County Superior Court on Tuesday, a judge upheld James “Jamie” Spears’ role, but didn’t close the door on ousting him at a future date and — per the singer’s request — appointed a financial fiduciary as a co-conservator, according to court documents reviewed by The Times. The hearing was set to review accounting — an annual report delineating Britney Spears’ expenses and her father’s expenditures on her behalf — as well as the appointment of conservators and the review of multiple motions.
During the hearing, attorneys for Spears and her mother, Lynne, reportedly urged the 38-year-old singer’s father to step down from the conservatorship, which has dictated the pop star’s life and career for more than a decade.
The “… Baby One More Time” hit-maker is said to be afraid of her father and will reportedly not perform until he no longer has control over her career — a role he’s taken on since her public unraveling in 2008.
In January 2019, she abruptly canceled her “Britney: Domination” residency in Las Vegas before it even began, then checked into a mental health facility. She has not performed live since 2018. According to the Associated Press, Us Weekly and TMZ, Britney Spears’ attorney blamed the singer’s professional hiatus on her father.
“My client has informed me that she is afraid of her father. She will not perform as long as her father is in charge of her career,” Samuel D. Ingham III said in the hearing conducted via phone and videoconference. (Spears did not attend but her parents were present via video, according to court documents.)
Jamie Spears’ attorney, Vivian Lee Thoreen, told the judge there she doesn’t believe “there is a shred of evidence” to support his suspension and objected to Ingham’s statements about the father-daughter relationship as inadmissible hearsay, AP reported.
Another hearing has been set for Dec. 16 at 9:30 a.m.
Legal experts have told The Times that it is unusual for someone as young and productive as Spears to be in a probate conservatorship, typically used to protect the old, infirm and mentally disabled. Her arrangement was expected to be temporary, as such conservatorships are usually intended for people who are not likely to get better and often remain in effect until the person dies.
Britney Spears’ two-part conservatorship was meant to safeguard her person and her estate in 2008, and has done so as the star mounted a personal and professional comeback in the years since. But the probate case’s unusually long duration has garnered interest and grown increasingly heated in the last year as the rampant, fan-fueled #FreeBritney movement has gained traction. Several developments occurred over the summer as Britney Spears and her team began to make more candid statements about her personal affairs in court filings — among them, repeated requests to recuse her father of his oversight duties altogether, reassigning control of her more than $60 million in assets to other conservators of her choosing.
Among the revelations were Spears’ admission that the conservatorship is “voluntary” and that she would no longer like to perform professionally. (On Tuesday, Ingham referred to the mother of two as a “high-functioning conservatee” and said that she and her father had not spoken in a very long time.)
In an early September filing in Los Angeles Superior Court, the entertainer gave credence to the viral #FreeBritney campaign whose organizers Jamie Spears had dismissed as “conspiracy theorists.” Ingham asked the court to open Britney Spears’ protracted conservatorship to public scrutiny after it had been sealed at her father’s behest for years. Jamie Spears has argued that the family business should remain private.
Her father has stepped down from a separate role — the conservator of her person — in September 2019 after citing his own “personal health reasons,” but remained the conservator of her estate. In August, the singer expressed her wishes to have him removed entirely.
She then requested that her temporary conservator of her person, Jodi Montgomery, be placed in a permanent role, and that a corporate fiduciary, Bessemer Trust Co., be appointed to manage her estate.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Judge Brenda J. Penny denied Spears’ request to suspend her father immediately upon the appointment of Bessemer as sole conservator of the estate. But the decision was made without prejudice, meaning he can be suspended at a later time.
Earlier this month, Spears’ younger sister, actress Jamie Lynn Spears, withdrew her petition to serve as a trustee to the singer’s SJB Trust. She had been selected as trustee of the pop superstar’s multimillion-dollar estate two years ago.
The singer’s business manager, Lou M. Taylor, and her company, Tri Star Sports & Entertainment, also resigned. The singer’s attorney also said that Jamie Spears appointed a new business manager, but didn’t inform the star.
In his own filings, Jamie Spears argued that he has done his job well and turned his daughter’s estate — once debt ridden and facing millions of dollars in lawsuits — into one worth more than $60 million.
The #FreeBritney movement has closely followed the few publicly available developments in the case and has called for an investigation of the conservatorship. Some fans associated with the campaign have long claimed that the pop star has been using social media to send coded cries for help (for example, a follower previously urged her to wear a specific color outfit in her next Instagram post; when she did, it was interpreted as a sign that she was requesting aid) — but her camp has not publicly commented on those theories.
Organizers from the campaign told The Times in August that many people subscribing to the #FreeBritney movement have studied the court documents available to the public, leading them to believe that the entertainer’s constitutional rights have been implicated and that some of her human rights are being violated.
On Tuesday, #FreeBritney organizers, who during hearings about the conservatorship usually protest outside the Stanley Mosk Courthouse, attended the public hearing and said that the appointment of Bessemer as a co-conservator was a “big win for Britney.”
“Ingham did a fantastic job fighting for Britney’s interests,” spokesperson Pilar Vigneaux said. “We support Britney’s decision of not working while James Spears remains involved in and in control of her life.”