Britney Spears is finally free. The conservatorship she called a “cruel” and “abusive” living nightmare was finally terminated on Friday in the same brutalist building in downtown Los Angeles where it started nearly 14 years ago.
“The court finds and determines that the conservatorship of the person and estate of Britney Jean Spears is no longer required,” Los Angeles County Judge Brenda Penny said. “Effective today, with the caveats I mentioned, the conservatorship of the person and estate of Britney Jean Spears is hereby terminated.”
The decision followed roughly five months after Spears, 39, publicly blasted the adult guardianship in a scorched-earth statement in open court — and four months after she won the right to hire her own lawyer, former federal prosecutor Mathew Rosengart.
Rosengart, backed by an army of fans rallied around the #FreeBritney movement, had vowed to emancipate his client from the court-ordered complex that micromanaged nearly every aspect of the “Toxic” singer’s existence for two-thirds of her adult life. On Friday, he was victorious.
Spears was placed in the two-part conservatorship — one side governing her personal life, one side her finances — on Feb. 1, 2008, following two back-to-back involuntary hospitalizations and a signed petition from her dad James “Jamie” Spears claiming she had “dementia.”
A 27-year-old pop icon at the time, she was at the center of a media feeding frenzy, with paparazzi and the public at large relentlessly scrutinizing her every move. Even TV’s “Dr. Phil” McGraw wanted a slice of the spotlight focused on her personal woes. He claimed she was in “dire need of both medical and psychological intervention” when he visited her at Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai hospital in early January 2008, after she was placed on her first 5150 hold for allegedly locking herself in a bathroom with her toddler son.
Though much was made of Spears’ “erratic” behavior back then, the court-appointed monitor who chaperoned her custodial visits with her sons leading up to the conservatorship recently gave a different perspective. “None of this was her fault,” monitor Robin Johnson told The New Yorker in July. “There were so many people involved in her life that caused all of this craziness with her. I don’t have anything derogatory to say about her. . . . It was probably one of the saddest cases that I’ve ever done in my entire life.”
Though mom Lynne Spears is now on the front lines with those pointing fingers, she claimed in a court declaration filed Feb. 1, 2008, that her daughter exhibited “the level of understanding of a very young girl” and was being fed the antipsychotic drugs Risperdal and Seroquel by a self-described manager named Sam Lutfi shortly before she was strapped to a gurney and taken for her second 5150 hold in a month on Jan. 30, 2008.
Britney was still in the hospital when a now-retired judge signed the paperwork creating the conservatorship on a temporary, emergency basis. At first, Judge Reva Goetz only gave Jamie the power to limit Britney’s visitors and access her medical records. The court would go on to grant him full control of the star’s round-the-clock care, and shared stewardship of her finances.
Touted early on as a necessity to keep an incapacitated celebrity safe, the conservatorship soon morphed into a management structure that kicked Spears’ career back into high gear. In a little over a year, she was back to working a packed schedule and pulling in millions. Her Circus tour that opened at the New Orleans Arena in March 2009 would go on to gross a reported $130 million. Her Femme Fatale album was released in March 2011. She became a judge on The X Factor in 2012 and launched her Vegas residency Britney: Piece of Me in 2013.
Many credited the conservatorship with pulling Spears back from the brink, but in her June 23 statement to the court, she said it actually left her feeling overworked, exploited and powerless. She questioned how someone who could “make a living for so many people and pay so many people” could be deemed “not good enough” to have any personal autonomy.
“It makes no sense at all,” she told Judge Penny. “All I want is to own my own money, for this to end and [for] my boyfriend to drive me in his fucking car. And I would honestly like to sue my family, to be totally honest with you.”
She was done being polite. When a conservatorship lawyer asked Judge Penny to clear the courtroom on June 23 and seal the transcript so Spears’ statement would remain private, the singer jumped in, cut the lawyer off, and demanded an “open-court” opportunity to deliver her remarks.
She said her handlers had “done a good job at exploiting my life” in the past, and she was ready to push back. She spoke nearly uninterrupted for 25 minutes, accusing her “ignorant father,” former managers, and “anyone involved in this conservatorship” of emotional abuse, forced medication, coerced labor, and cold-hearted isolation tactics that left her feeling “bullied,” helpless, and utterly “alone.”
“I’ve lied and told the whole world I’m OK, and I’m happy. It’s a lie. I thought, just maybe, if I said that enough, maybe I might become happy, because I’ve been in denial. I’ve been in shock. I am traumatized. You know, ‘Fake it till you make it.’ But now I’m telling you the truth, OK? I’m not happy. I can’t sleep. I’m so angry, it’s insane. And I’m depressed. I cry every day,” she said.
In vivid language that confirmed the fears of her most ardent fans, Spears claimed she was “forced” to agree to her 2018 Piece of Me tour under threat of “scary” legal action and treated like a “slave” as she was preparing for her second Vegas residency, Domination. After she resisted some choreography and said she needed a break, her doctor put her on the powerful drug lithium “out of nowhere,” she said.
“I felt drunk. I really couldn’t take up for myself,” she told the court. Spears said she was then sent to a private rehab program in Beverly Hills that cost $60,000 a month. She had no phone, no privacy door on her room, and had to sit in a chair for 10 hours a day, seven days a week, submitting to the program she desperately wished to escape, she said.
“I cried on the phone [to my dad] for an hour, and he loved every minute of it,” she said. “The control he had over someone as powerful as me. He loved the control to hurt his own daughter, 100,000 percent. He loved it,” she said, her voice dripping with scorn.
She said the conservatorship barred her from removing an IUD, marrying her boyfriend, trying for another baby, and contacting old friends.
“I deserve to have a life,” she said. “I feel ganged-up-on, and I feel bullied, and I feel left out and alone. And I’m tired of feeling alone. I deserve to have the same rights as anybody does by having a child, a family, any of those things.”
Spears’ June 23 statement was the depth charge that started the irreversible sinking of the conservatorship. On July 14, Judge Penny allowed the singer to hire Rosengart. Two weeks later, Rosengart filed a petition to suspend and remove Jamie, accusing the dad of mismanaging his daughter’s finances while lining his own pockets.
In his blockbuster filing July 26, Rosengart bashed Jamie for paying himself $16,000 a month from Britney’s estate while allotting Britney herself only $14,000 per month. Rosengart further alleged Jamie took a $2.1 million cut of his daughter’s Vegas residency and a 2.95-percent commission on the gross revenues on her 2011 Femme Fatale tour, which yielded him an estimated $500,000.
Rosengart said while it’s “common for managers, agents, and other industry professionals to receive a percentage of an artists’ earnings, Mr. Spears is none of those. He is a conservator and, as a conservator, his role is to be burdened by, rather than benefit from, the conservatorship.”
Judge Penny suspended Jamie as conservator of his daughter’s estate at a Sept. 29 hearing after his lawyers pushed for full termination of the conservatorship on the spot.
Rosengart said full termination wasn’t the way to go on Sept. 29 because he wanted to use the 44 days leading up to Friday’s hearing to probe Jamie’s alleged “corruption.” He persuaded the court to suspend Jamie and replace him with accountant John Zabel in a move meant to compel Jamie to hand over documents related to the conservatorship. Rosengart said the conduct he planned to investigate included claims by a “whistleblower” that Jamie was involved in inappropriate surveillance that allegedly recorded his daughter’s conversations with her prior lawyer.
The whistleblower he was referring to is former Spears security staffer Alex Vlasov, who claimed in the New York Times documentary Controlling Britney Spears that Jamie Spears conspired with Vlasov’s boss Edan Yemini, head of Black Box security, and Robin Greenhill, an executive at Britney’s former management firm Tri Star, to monitor his daughters’ communications.
“Edan would bring me text messages Britney would have, and he would ask me to encrypt those messages and give it to him so he could pass it on to Robin and Jamie,” Vlasov said in the FX and Hulu documentary. “They would also monitor conversations with her friends, with her mom, with her lawyer Sam Ingham.”
Vlasov said at one point, Yemeni placed a listening device in Britney’s bedroom — an allegation Yemeni denies. “Mr. Yemeni and Black Box have always conducted themselves within professional, ethical and legal bounds, and they are particularly proud of their work in keeping Ms. Spears safe for many years,” Yemini’s civil lawyer Shawn Holley said in a statement to Rolling Stone.
On Oct. 1, Rosengart sent Jamie a deposition notice that requested “all documents and communications” related to “any recording or listening device” placed in Britney’s phone and any “electronic surveillance monitoring, cloning or recording” of the activity of his clients’ phone. He sent similar subpoenas to Greenhill.
“No one at Tri Star has ever suggested monitoring Ms. Spears’ electronic communications,” Greenhill says in the statement obtained by Rolling Stone. “No one at Tri Star is aware of any hidden electronic surveillance device placed in Ms. Spears’ bedroom.”
Looking ahead to Spears’ life beyond the guardrails of the conservatorship, she’s expected to marry her longtime boyfriend Sam Asghari after announcing the couple’s engagement in a gleeful Instagram post Sept. 12. “I can’t f—ing believe it 💍💍💍💍💍💍❣️!!!!!!” she captioned video clips showing off her diamond sparkler.
But having spent the last 13 years with someone else calling all the shots, she might need some time to feel comfortable navigating her newfound independence. The pop star said as much in a follow-up Instagram post Oct. 15.
“I’ll just be honest and say I’ve waited so long to be free from the situation I’m in … and now that it’s here I’m scared to do anything because I’m afraid I’ll make a mistake!!!,” she wrote. “For so many years I was always told if I succeeded at things, it could end … and it never did !!! I worked so hard but now that it’s here and getting closer and closer to ending I’m very happy but there’s a lot of things that scare me!!!”
She said she plans to steer “clear of the business,” at least for a little while. “This is so very confusing for me !!! Anyway … God bless you all 🌹!!!