Britney Spears’ conservatorship is back in court this week, and while some fans hope it will be for the last time, some lawyers caution that the court has multiple options beyond ending her 13-year conservatorship.
Spears’ father, James “Jamie” Spears, filed a shocking request to terminate his daughter’s conservatorship this month, even though he had told the court weeks earlier that she was “mentally sick” and defended his role in her life. He filed the petition after Britney Spears’ attorney, Mathew Rosengart, filed a request to remove him as conservator, accusing him of mishandling her finances.
The petitions essentially cancel each other out, but they leave Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny with three options Wednesday: terminate Britney Spears' conservatorship, leave it in place and replace Jamie Spears or deny both petitions in favor of the status quo.
It’s more likely that Penny will remove Jamie Spears as a conservator, making his petition for termination moot, as he has “lost all credibility” in court, said Tamar Arminak, a conservatorship lawyer who worked with the actor Amanda Bynes’ parents.
“He is causing a considerable amount of chaos, and with him still on the case, others are causing a considerable amount of chaos,” Arminak said, adding that Penny “wants to remove that element out of the case, calm the case down, bring it down to deal with it.”
Rosengart filed a supplement to his petition to remove Jamie Spears last week, saying that while his client supports termination, he also understands that the court may still have concerns. The filing asks Penny to replace Jamie Spears with a professional accountant who can work with Jodi Montgomery, the singer’s conservator-of-the-person, to present the court with a plan that would progress toward Britney Spears’ freedom.
“Jodi Montgomery, as a professional conservator, knows how to create that pathway — a successful long-term kind of pathway — to end the conservatorship but still keep a conservatee like Britney safe and protected,” Arminak said. “And it doesn't look like what Jamie did. ... It takes time."
Britney Spears has to prove to the court that she has a medical and financial support system to turn to in case problems arise.
“She needs to show the court that she’s able to follow the routine without having to be forced to follow the routine,” Arminak said. “That is what Jodi and Britney need to do together to get her off this conservatorship.”
The court’s priority is to ensure that the circumstances that led to the conservatorship won’t resume as soon as Britney Spears is free from their oversight, said Sarah Wentz, a lawyer and partner at the law firm Fox Rothschild.
Ending the conservatorship is more likely to come in phases, in which her father’s replacement involves her in financial decision-making over time, Wentz said.
“Given that she’s struggled with some mental health issues in the past, the stress of having all of this piled on her at once, it would be remarkable if she succeeded if they did that way,” Wentz said. “I don’t think that very many people could step in when you have a business like she has. ... A lot of people have help and CEOs and CFOs running that. So to assume that she can just step in and take care of all of it is kind of short-sighted.”
There is a chance Penny could rule to terminate the conservatorship now that Montgomery and both Spearses have supported her freedom, conservatorship lawyer Scott Rahn said.
“So, you know, when you have all three parties at issue asking for the same outcome, unless there’s somebody else is going to be presenting something else or the court has concerns of its own, I would anticipate that that will be the outcome,” Rahn said.
Jamie Spears’ petition asks the court to terminate the conservatorship without further psychological evaluation, which his daughter asked the court for in June, even though he asserted in a filing last month that she was suffering from mental health issues.
The rapid shift in stances could be a concern for the court, Rahn said. The court could ask for a counselor to interview Britney Spears first or set up a hearing to look at her medical records, Rahn said.
Britney Spears’ attorney has also raised concerns about accounting that is pending court approval. But Penny could terminate the conservatorship before finalizing the accounting, leaving that in the court’s jurisdiction, Rahn said.
Those issues could be resolved through mediation before or after the termination, as well as years of litigation. While Britney Spears has made it clear that she feels her father has abused her through the conservatorship, years of litigation are emotionally taxing, and she could choose to just move on after she has been given her freedom.
“Everybody should put this all into context — the momentum that this case has generated,” Rahn said. “In addition to the attention that is brought to conservatorships, it should not be overlooked in that you have a situation where Ms. Spears spoke up in June, and here we are three months later already talking about having the conservatorship terminated. That’s really quick in any judicial proceeding for things to gather that much steam that quickly.”