On Wednesday, just weeks after Britney Spears spoke out against the conservatorship that’s controlled her life since 2008, a Los Angeles judge agreed to let the pop singer choose her own attorney.
The hearing is the first court meeting after Spears’ bombshell testimony last month, where she made it abundantly clear that she wants the conservatorship to end and that she wants to handpick her own lawyer, rather than rely on Sam Ingham, an attorney who was appointed by the court at the outset of the conservatorship.
In the wake of Spears’ testimony, her first public remarks on the conservatorship, Ingham had asked the court to let him step down. Judge Brenda Penny approved that request Wednesday.
On Wednesday, Britney Spears said she wanted to charge her father, James Spears, with conservatorship abuse, according to CNN. James Spears has overseen Britney’s $60 million estate since 2008, when the conservatorship began, and has also previously served as conservator of Britney’s person. In comments outside the courthouse, Rosengart said he would move “promptly and aggressively” to remove James Spears as conservator.
“I want to press charges against my father today,” Britney Spears said in court. “I want an investigation into my dad.”
Penny recently denied a months-old request from Britney Spears to remove James Spears as conservator, but Spears made it clear Wednesday that she still wants her dad to go. Addressing the court over the phone, Spears at times sobbed as she spoke and said that she was “extremely scared” of her father, NBC News reported. “This conservatorship has allowed my dad to ruin my life,” the singer said, adding that she’d been forced to work 70 hours a week and that even her diet has been controlled.
She also accused her father of taking away her driver’s license for eight months, and said that she’d been deprived of vitamins and coffee.
"If this is not abuse, I don't know what is," Spears said, according to CNN. She added, "I thought they were trying to kill me.”
In her June testimony, Spears also spoke about being pressured into working and getting drugged with lithium after speaking up, as well as not being allowed to remove an IUD that’s kept her from getting pregnant. The testimony essentially affirmed the entire #FreeBritney movement, which has long advocated for the end of the conservatorship, and sent it spiraling into the mainstream.
The case has touched on issues of disability and reproductive rights, prompting groups that may not care much about pop music to join the fray. On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union, alongside the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, filed a brief asking the court to let them help Spears pick a new attorney, as she said she wanted to do in her testimony.
Numerous celebrities—including Spears’ fellow early aughts icon Christina Aguilera—threw their support between the singer.
#FreeBritney may also be one of the few things that both Democrats and Republicans can agree on, as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz have both come out in support of the embattled singer. On Tuesday, as the hearing loomed, a #FreeBritney rally gathered in Washington, D.C.
Dozens also gathered outside the Los Angeles courthouse where Spears’ case was heard. Carrying signs with messages like “THIS IS TOXIC!” and “FREE BRITNEY BITCH!”, they chanted, “End the conservatorship now!” and, “Hey hey, ho ho, the conservatorship has got to go!” Ahead of the hearing, they blasted the Spears hit “Stronger.” (They also pointed out that none of the celebrities who’d supported Spears’ bid for freedom bothered to protest at the courthouse. “It’s all bullshit,” one attendee muttered.)
Since the court hearing last month, the conservatorship and Spears’ team have undergone several major shakeups. Beyond Ingham, Bessemer Trust, a wealth management firm that was recently tapped to serve as a co-conservator of Spears’ estate, also asked to step down. Larry Rudolph, Spears’ longterm manager, resigned. (While Rudolph said in his resignation letter that he was not a part of the conservatorship, Spears’ testimony referred ominously to her “management” pushing her to work against her wishes.)
Lynne Spears, Britney’s mother, also filed a court petition advocating for Spears to be able to choose her own lawyer.
“For the past many years, Conservatee is able to care for her person and in fact has, inside of the parameters of this conservatorship, earned literally hundreds of millions of dollars as an international celebrity,” the petition reads. “Her capacity is certainly different today than it was in 2008, and Conservatee should no longer be held to the 2008 standard, whereby she was found to ‘not have the capacity to retain counsel.’”
Unlike the last hearing, audio from Tuesday’s hearing was not live-streamed. In fact, the court totally shut down its remote audio attendance program after illicitly recorded audio of Spears’ testimony leaked online. One reporter at the hearing tweeted that members of the public had to put their phones inside a magnetic pouch, to prevent them from accessing their phones.
James Spears has also filed his own paperwork with the court, where he asked the court to investigate the “serious allegations” his daughter made. If those allegations can be proven, James agreed that “corrective action must be taken”; if they’re not, he wants the conservatorship to continue. James said that he no longer communicates with Britney, and that he has not been involved in her “personal care or medical or reproductive issues” since late 2019. Instead, James Spears suggested that it’s Jodi Montgomery, a licensed private professional fiduciary who currently serves as Britney Spears’ conservator of her person, who’s responsible for any wrongdoing against Britney.
Montgomery, in response, has thrown the blame back on James Spears. She, too, has so far declined to leave the conservatorship, citing Britney Spears’ desire to have Montgomery remain. Montgomery accused James Spears of merely offering a “thinly veiled attempt to clear his name,” and alleged that James had used “more than $2 million of his daughter's money” in his effort to remain a conservator of Britney Spears’ estate.
Montgomery has also filed a petition with the court asking for Spears’ estate to pay for security for her, since she started receiving an “elevated level of threatening messages” after Spears’ testimony. James Spears has objected.
Spears has not formally petitioned to end the conservatorship; in June her testimony, she said she didn’t know that she could.
This article will continue to be updated to reflect new developments.