The biggest move Britney Spears made at her conservatorship hearing on July 14 was, without a doubt, successfully hiring her own, private attorney, Mathew Rosengart, who is expected to aggressively push for an end to the legal arrangement that has controlled the pop star’s life for 13 years. But that wasn’t the only major development to come out of the courtroom on Wednesday. Spears also vowed to “press charges” against her father, Jamie, for conservatorship abuse.
“I want my dad investigated,” Spears reportedly told judge Brenda Penny on Wednesday. “This conservatorship is literally allowing my dad to rule my life… that is abuse, and we all know it.”
While “conservatorship abuse” isn’t a criminal offense per se, much of what Spears alleges she has endured under her conservatorship could constitute a crime—from being financially exploited, to being forced to perform against her will, to being prohibited from removing her IUD, according to attorney Kenneth Heisz, a partner at the California law firm Gorman & Miller who specializes in trust, probate, and estate litigation. At a minimum, Spears has the ability to file a civil suit against her father, Heisz said. From there, he said—depending on what a civil trial like that uncovered—Jamie Spears could ultimately face criminal charges.
I called up Heisz for a better understanding of what Spears “pressing charges” against her father would actually entail, and—if she does decide to go down that path—what her chances of prevailing in court might be.
How would Britney Spears go about “pressing charges” against her dad for conservatorship abuse, and what would that actually involve?
The first step, really, is to terminate the conservatorship. My understanding is that’s what the new attorney is going to do, and that's what I would do in his position as well: I would immediately file a petition to terminate the conservatorship, and then proceed from there.
There would have to be a lawsuit filed against her father. In California, there's something called the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act. Basically, it allows elders and also dependent adults subject to abuse, financial abuse, neglect, or abandonment to [seek redress from the court]. The remedies would include compensatory damages, it would include possible punitive damages, and you also can recover your attorneys’ fees.
Does it seem like Britney would have a strong case against her father if she pursued a conservatorship abuse claim against him?
If you can prove all the things that she said at the June 23 hearing—and that would include being forced to work against your will; being forced to take particular medication in order to cooperate better; not being able to make personal health decisions, like whether to marry or whether to have kids—if all that is true, it seems like she would have a good case of conservatorship abuse. Even if a conservator believes that something is not in the best interests of the conservatee—marriage and birth control and all that—the conservator should go to the court and seek guidance from the court on something like that. Not just make a decision unilaterally.
If Britney were to pursue this claim against her father, would that be strictly a civil matter, or could it potentially evolve into a criminal case?
Until or unless the District Attorney's office decides there's a possible crime, they're not going to pursue it. They're not going to do it just based upon suspicion. They’ve got to have some evidence, and I believe you'd have to get it from the civil lawsuit. Some of these records that are relevant have been sealed. Once you file a lawsuit, you're entitled to discovery, and that includes an exchange of documents. So that would be one way to be able to get those documents. Then, if there's been some theft or misappropriation, criminal charges could be likely.
What would an investigation into Britney’s conservatorship abuse claim involve, and who would conduct it?
You'd have to bring in a forensic accountant who would take a look at some of the documents and see if there was a misappropriation of funds or theft. My understanding, from what I've read, is that everybody in the family—her father, her mother, the brother—were on the payroll. Who approved that? It appears that Britney didn't say all that was okay.
Then you think, OK, civil rights were [allegedly] violated. The whole lithium thing: I think the assumption is, lithium is the drug of choice for treating bipolar disorder. So maybe that's what she has. But the way she was talking about it, it almost seems like it was weaponized against her—that she was being given this particular medication to make her more cooperative. That could be a medical malpractice case. This could go in so many different directions.
How difficult, lengthy, and costly might it be for Britney to carry out a conservatorship abuse lawsuit against her father?
I can't give you a number. But it could be a multi-year case, and it could be very expensive. You're going to have a lot of people with vested interests who are going to be either supporting it or fighting. When you have wealthy clients, they often will not settle and will go to trial. Could it be millions? Sure, if it goes over the course of a few years.
Let's say that a court ruled that Jamie Spears had, in fact, committed conservatorship abuse of some kind. What could the repercussions be for Jamie?
If he was still in place as a conservator, he would be removed. Then, he would be the one that would have to reimburse Britney for any money that was misappropriated or taken, any pain and suffering damages, and possible punitive damages. On top of that, he could be looking at paying her attorneys’ fees for [the abuse lawsuit]. And he may not have that money. That happens all the time. I've had cases where you get a judgment against somebody, but they're basically judgment-proof, because they don't have the money to pay it off. So the repercussions could be devastating to him—but it could also be a hollow victory if he’s not able to fully compensate her.
But this may not be about money. For her, it may be more of an emotional vindication. She may want to prove that this was wrong. If she gets some kind of a civil judgment against her father, it would vindicate what she's been saying all along: that she shouldn't be in this conservatorship.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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