The contentious fight over Britney Spears’ conservatorship entered a new phase after the singer’s scathing testimony in front of Los Angeles probate judge Brenda Penny in June, during which the pop star offered a harrowing account of the last 13 years of her life.
Since 2008, Spears’ life has been controlled by a conservatorship led by her once-estranged father, James “Jamie” Spears. The conservatorship has been credited by some with helping right Spears’ career after a tumultuous 2008 ended with a 5150 involuntary psychiatric hold; since then, Spears has put out hit albums, toured the world, and starred in a Las Vegas residency. But in her testimony, Spears claimed that her father and others enlisted to oversee her life and career have forced her to work ceaselessly; she even goes so far as to compare her seven-days-a-week, no-days-off schedule to sex trafficking. Spears, who also has a personal conservator, Jodi Montgomery, alleged that she was prescribed medication like lithium against her will and told she was not allowed to get married, have another child, or have her IUD removed.
Spears’ testimony seemed to confirm all the suspicions about the nature of her conservatorship raised by the pop star’s supporters in the #FreeBritney movement. The movement traces its origins back to fans Tess Barker and Barbara Gray, who launched the Britney’s Gram podcast in November 2017; it soon blossomed into a coterie of dedicated fans who often show up in support of Spears at court hearings and comb through her social media posts for any clues as to how the pop star might really be feeling.
And while their public campaign has been going on for several years now, the movement has significantly accelerated and reached a wider public consciousness in 2021 thanks to a major documentary, unsealed court documents, and Spears’ own testimony. Spears’ pop star peers, including Pink, Christina Aguilera, and Mariah Carey have all rallied behind her, while ex-boyfriend Justin Timberlake was compelled to apologize for the way he fueled tabloid treatment of her after their breakup.
Below is a breakdown of the last few tumultuous months — and what to look out for next.
Framing Britney Spears premieres on Hulu. Directed by Samantha Stark, the film offered one of the most comprehensive accounts of Spears’ career and conservatorship. It examined her fraught relationship with the media, how that played into Spears’ erratic 2008, and how her somewhat estranged father, Jamie Spears, reentered the picture that year to serve as Spears’ conservator. The film also profiled the rise of the #FreeBritney movement and put forth the argument that those who have been overseeing Spears’ career for the past 13 years may not have always had her best interests at heart.
Following the doc’s premiere, Spears’ longtime boyfriend, Sam Asghari, criticizes Jamie Spears on Instagram, calling him “a total dick.” He also issues a statement to People saying, “I have always wanted nothing but the best for my better half, and will continue to support her following her dreams and creating the future she wants and deserves.”
A probate judge overrules Jamie Spears’ objection to an order that previously assigned the financial institution Bessemer Trust as a co-conservator of Spears’ estate. At Spears’ request, Bessemer was appointed a co-conservator in November 2020. At the February 2021 hearing, Spears’ lawyer, Samuel Ingham III, also said, “It’s no secret that my client does not want her father as co-conservator, but we recognize that removal is a separate issue.”
February 25th – March 3rd
Jamie Spears’ lawyer, Vivian Lee Thoreen, defends the conservatorship and Jamie in a series of interviews with CNN, NBC News, and Good Morning America. “I understand that every story wants to have a villain, but people have it so wrong here,” she said on GMA. “This is a story about a fiercely loyal, loving, and dedicated father who rescued his daughter from a life-threatening situation. People were harming her and they were exploiting her.”
Britney issues her first public statement about Framing Britney Spears on Instagram, writing, “I didn’t watch the documentary but from what I did see of it I was embarrassed by the light they put me in,” she continued. “I cried for two weeks and well…. I still cry sometimes !!!!”
At a court hearing, Spears’ attorney requests that the singer be allowed to speak about her conservatorship at her next court hearing.
The New York Times publishes a report based on previously sealed court documents that reveal Spears had been pushing back against the conservatorship more frequently and for longer than had previously been known. The documents also revealed Spears had been questioning her father’s fitness to serve as her conservator far earlier than previously reported.
Spears delivers a scathing rebuke of her conservatorship in court. Along with her claims of forced labor and abuse, Spears revealed that she did not know she could petition the court to end her conservatorship. She said she’d also been told by her court-appointed lawyer, Ingham, that she shouldn’t publicly share details of her experiences. “All I want is to own my money… and for this to end… and for my boyfriend to be able to fucking drive me in his car. And honestly…. I want to be able to sue my family,” she said.
Jamie calls for an inquiry into the claims Spears leveled during her testimony. Along with calling for the inquiry, Jamie’s attorneys filed a separate set of documents pushing back against some of Spears’ claims in her testimony, specifically regarding how much control Jamie had in the conservatorship. For instance, the filings alleged it wasn’t Jamie, but Spears’ personal conservator, Jodi Montgomery, who had been “fully in charge of Ms. Spears’ day-to-day personal care and medical treatment” since September 2019.
A judge denies Spears’ request to remove her father from her ongoing conservatorship. The decision was not made in response to Spears’ June 23rd testimony, but a November 2020 request. On the same day, Bessemer Trust announces that it will not take over Spears’ finances, citing the singer’s public criticism of the conservatorship and stating in a court filing that it had been told Spears’ involvement in the conservatorship was voluntary.
The New Yorker publishes more details about the conservatorship battle, including that Spears had shown some disapproval of her father’s role as early as 2008, the same year it began. The piece also states that Spears called 911 the night before her testimony to report herself as a victim of conservatorship abuse.
Spears’ longtime manager, Larry Rudolph, resigns, citing the singer’s apparent desire to retire. Rudolph briefly addressed the drama surrounding the conservatorship and distanced himself from it, saying, “I have never been a part of the conservatorship nor its operations, so I am not privy to many details.” Still, in her June 23rd testimony, Spears highlighted some of the professional pressures placed on her by her managers, including that she do a 2018 tour (Rudolph was never mentioned by name).
Jodi Montgomery tells the court that she has been getting death threats since Spears’ public statements about her conservatorship, according to Variety. She also asks the court to allow Spears’ conservatorship estate to continue to pay for the 24/7 security she has been furnished with since the threats began. Spears has asked that Montgomery remain on as her personal conservator.
“Since Ms. Spears has requested that Petitioner retain her position as conservator, Petitioner has no intention of abandoning her by resigning because of these threats,” Montgomery’s attorneys write, according to Variety.
A representative for Montgomery declined Rolling Stone‘s request for comment.
Tuesday, the pop star’s mother, Lynne Spears, asks the judge to allow Spears to hire her own private attorney. “It is self-evident that before the Court addresses, for example, the termination of the conservatorship, Conservatee must be allowed to consult with counsel of her choosing,” Lynne Spears’ attorney writes, per Variety. “Clearly, Conservatee needs private counsel to advise her as to her basic rights in this conservatorship.”
A Los Angeles judge approves Britney Spears’ request to hire her own lawyer, Mathew S. Rosengart, to represent her in her ongoing conservatorship, The New York Times reported. According to a Times source, Rosengart is expected to push more aggressively for an end to the conservatorship. Along with approving the hiring of Rosengart, Judge Brenda Penny also approves the resignation of Spears’ former court-appointed attorney, Samuel Ingham, and the firm he’d brought on to assist him, Loeb & Loeb.
Per NBC News, Spears also says during the hearing, “I’m here to get rid of my dad and charge him with conservatorship abuse.” She adds that “this conservatorship has allowed my dad to ruin my life.”
Britney Spears’ former manager, Sam Lutfi, acknowledges on Twitter that he “failed her” during his brief tenure working for the pop star. “Just sitting here listening to that court recording, if she hates me after she’s free I won’t blame her,” Lutfi says, referring to Spears’ June 23rd testimony. “I was supposed to protect her from all this, I let her down and we both paid dearly for it — head in hands. I’m so sorry.”
Just sitting here listening to that court recording, if she hates me after she's free I won't blame her… I failed her, I was supposed to protect her from all this, I let her down and we both paid dearly for it – – head in hands..I'm so sorry
— Sam Lutfi (@SamLutfi) July 14, 2021
Spears’ new lawyer, Mathew Rosengart, files a petition to remove Jamie Spears from the conservatorship. While the specific petition isn’t immediately made public, it is referenced in another filing, which seeks to name Jason Rubin, a certified public accountant, as the conservator of Spears’ estate.
New legal documents filed by a lawyer representing Spears’ temporary conservator Jodi Montgomery reveal that Montgomery and Spears’ medical team support the removal of the star’s father from the conservatorship.
Britney Spears’ lawyer, Mathew Rosengart, files a motion asking Judge Brenda Penny to move up the next court hearing over whether to remove Spears’ father, Jamie Spears, from her conservatorship, Variety reports. The hearing is currently scheduled for September 29th, but Rosengart requests it be moved to August 23rd, or as soon as possible after that. In a motion, Rosengart writes, “In short, although a two-month wait for a hearing on the Petition may not seem significant in the context of 13 years, Ms. Spears should not be forced to continue to feel traumatized, lose sleep and suffer further. Every day matters.”
Rosengart did not immediately return Rolling Stone’s request for comment.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny denies Spears’ request to move up the next court hearing regarding Jamie Spears’ role in her conservatorship, per Deadline.
Judge Penny has been getting death threats after declining to move up Spears’ court date.
Police are currently monitoring. “LASD continues to monitor the social media chatter regarding the ongoing Britney Spears civil court case,” a media spokesperson for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department tells Variety in a statement. “Although some of the language on social media is concerning, at this time, it has not risen to the level of a creditable criminal threat.”
Meanwhile, Jamie Spears files papers to officially step down as his daughter’s conservator.
In his latest filling, Britney Spears’ lawyer, Mathew S. Rosengart, accused Jamie Spears of trying to extort approximately $2 million from the singer’s estate to leave the conservatorship. “The status quo is no longer tolerable, and Britney Spears will not be extorted,” the filing read. “Mr. Spears’s blatant attempt to barter suspension and removal in exchange for approximately $2 million in payments, on top of the millions already reaped from Ms. Spears’s estate by Mr. Spears and his associates, is a non-starter.”
Jamie Spears filed a petition to end his tenure as the court-ordered conservator of Britney Spears’ estate. The court documents referred to his daughter’s requests to terminate the 13-year conservatorship, reading: “As Mr. Spears has said again and again, all he wants is what is best for his daughter. 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 Spears’ lawyer, Mathew S. Rosengart, called the filing “a massive legal victory for Britney Spears, as well as vindication.” He continued: “Having exposed his misconduct and improper plan to hold his daughter hostage by trying to extract a multi-million-dollar settlement, Mr. Spears has now effectively surrendered. There is no settlement. 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.”
Spears’ lawyer, Mathew S. Rosengart, told a judge that he expects the singer’s conservatorship will be terminated “completely and inevitably” this fall, Variety reports. The claim appeared in a filing in which Rosengart also urged the judge to replace Spears’ father, Jamie, at the next hearing on September 29th, with someone capable of doing the job on a “temporary short-term basis.” He also requested the judge set a hearing to end the conservatorship fully “at its soonest convenience,” and stated that a termination plan will be ready by then.
A judge suspended Britney Spears’ father, Jamie Spears, from his role as conservator of her $60 million estate. “I believe that the suspension of [James Spears] is in the best interest of the conservatee, Ms. Britney Spears,” Judge Brenda Penny said. “The current situation is untenable.” In removing Jamie Spears, Judge Penny also approved Spears’ choice of certified public accountant, John Zabel, to assume control of her finances as her conservatorship winds down.
“What today was about was suspending Jamie Spears, receiving the files, receiving the communication between Jamie Spears and his representatives, and we succeeded in every regard, on all of those fronts,” Spears’ lawyer, Mathew S. Rosengart, said after the hearing.
A lawyer for Jamie Spears called the court’s decision “disappointing, and frankly, a loss for Britney.”
After almost 14 years, Britney Spears’ conservatorship finally came to an end. Los Angeles County Judge Brenda Penny determined that the “conservatorship of the person and estate of Britney Jean Spears is no longer required” and terminated the arrangement. Judge Penny did add that Spears’ current estate conservator would be able to continue to work with the singer as she settled ongoing financial issues.
Whatever Britney wants!