LOS ANGELES — A judge in Los Angeles ruled Wednesday that Britney Spears' father should be suspended as her conservator, a change that the singer requested and that her attorney hopes will set her on the path to freedom for the first time since 2008.
Spears' father, James "Jamie" Spears, filed the petition to dissolve the conservatorship last month after she filed to replace him with a professional conservator. Britney Spears, 39, described her situation as "abusive" in public testimony over the summer, telling the court that she has been prevented from getting married, having more children and living a full life.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny was given the option of terminating the conservatorship Wednesday, keeping it in place and simply replacing Jamie Spears or denying both rulings and maintaining the status quo. She could have also delayed a ruling and request more evidence before she decided.
"This situation is not tenable. ... This situation is toxic," Penny said.
Penny approved accountant John Zabel as the successor to Jamie Spears, who will be required to hand over documents to the new conservator of the estate. A hearing to review the suspension and a petition to end the conservatorship is set for Nov. 12, about three weeks before Britney Spears' birthday.
Rosengart told reporters and fans after the hearing that the ruling was a "substantial step toward [Britney Spears'] freedom." He described the last ten years of his client's life to be a "Kafkaesque nightmare."
"The goal today was to suspend Jamie Spears. That's what today was about," Rosengart said. "And that's what happened in court today. We expect the ultimate termination will be, as I said in my filing earlier this week, this fall. Specifically by Nov. 12, which is the next hearing date."
He also said that he will be looking at Jamie Spears' communications with his attorney, which are to be turned over to the new conservator, for any information about allegations that Britney Spears was being recorded without her knowledge.
Rosengart credited the #FreeBritney movement as "instrumental" in the ruling.
"She's free today in a sense ... but there's a larger issue here," Rosengart said. "And the larger issue is now being looked into by state legislatures throughout the country, certainly in California, and by the U.S. Congress. To the extent we can shine a light on that issue, as well, that's something that's very important."
Jamie Spears' attorney, Vivian Thoreen, called the ruling a loss for his daughter in a statement Thursday. Thoreen said that part of working in Britney Spears' best interest meant that her client had to bite his tongue and not respond to the "false, speculative, and unsubstantiated attacks" levied against him.
"These facts make the outcome of yesterday’s hearing all the more disappointing, and frankly, a loss for Britney," Thoreen said. "Respectfully, the court was wrong to suspend Mr. Spears, put a stranger in his place to manage Britney’s estate, and extend the very conservatorship that Britney begged the court to terminate earlier this summer."
Britney Spears' fiancé, Sam Asghari, posted on his Instagram Stories after the news, apparently holding a rose with the singer in one photo.
"The power of the lioness!!!!! #freebritney!" he wrote in an Instagram post.
Britney Spears didn't comment on the ruling in her own Instagram post. However, moments after the hearing ended, she posted a video of her flying a plane for the first time and said she was "on cloud 9 right now."
Jamie Spears has been in charge of his daughter's estate since he asked the court to place her in a conservatorship nearly 13 years ago. At the time, Britney Spears had suffered a public breakdown under a barrage of intense media scrutiny.
The conservatorship itself has also been put under the microscope, by both news organizations and fans. The #FreeBritney campaign has gained momentum on social media in recent years as fans question whether she was being taken advantage of through what was supposed to have been a temporary arrangement.
Wednesday's hearing was a moment that thousands of invested fans around the world had been waiting for.
All afternoon, supporters gathered outside the Stanley Mosk Courthouse waiting for news. A stage was set up outside the entrance, where #FreeBritney organizers gave people a platform to share their stories about others who have been negatively affected by conservatorships, such as former "Star Trek" star Nichelle Nichols.
Nichols, who was diagnosed with dementia, has been in a conservatorship since 2018 and has been isolated from loves ones in a nursing home, according to her friend Angelique Fawcette.
"She asked to die in her home, and she couldn't even do that," Fawcette told the crowd. "I'm going to continue to stand up for my friend. Free Britney! Free Nichelle Nichols!"
Rio Hamilton, who said his mother was under a conservatorship in New Mexico, credited the #FreeBritney movement with bringing to light issues surrounding conservatorships.
"They're literally taking away equity, property, anything they can from people who are vulnerable," Hamilton said.
Britney Spears ended speculation about her feelings when she addressed the court in June. She asked Penny to end the conservatorship without further psychological evaluation, alleging that she had been forced to take medication she didn't want to take and that she felt her former psychiatrist was abusive in his treatment of her.
"I haven't done anything in the world to deserve this treatment," she said. "It's not OK to force me to do anything I don't want to do."
She also accused her family of having done little to help or support her, accusing her father of enjoying his power over her and restricting access to her children as a means of coercion. Her attorney, who filed to replace her father as conservator in July, has accused him of mishandling her finances.
Jamie Spears and his legal team have repeatedly denied the accusations, saying that he only had his daughter's best interests at heart and that the conservatorship had helped her to succeed.
He filed the petition to end the conservatorship this month, a few weeks after he filed a response in opposition to a request from Mathew Rosengart, his daughter's attorney, to remove him, as well as a filing in which he said his daughter was "mentally sick."
But in a change of tone, Jamie Spears' legal team wrote that his daughter's circumstances have dramatically changed since 2008 and that she has made it clear she wants to be free from the conservatorship.
Jamie Spears also noted that the court ruled in July that Britney Spears was competent enough to retain her own attorney and said that by the same logic, "she presumably has capacity and capability to handle other contractual and business matters."
Jodi Montgomery, Britney Spears' conservator-of-the person, has previously told the court that she intended to create a care plan that would create a pathway out of the conservatorship. She disputed Jamie Spears' characterization of a phone call between them that led to the filing in which he said his daughter was "mentally sick" and suggested that she might require a psychiatric hold.
Her attorney, Lauriann Wright, said that Montgomery expressed concerns about Britney Spears' well-being and "that forcing Ms. Spears to take the stand to testify or to have her evaluated would move the needle in the wrong direction for her mental health."
Spears' mother, Lynn Spears, has also offered support in a declaration in the petition to remove her ex-husband as conservator, saying he exerted "microscopic" control over their daughter.
Rosengart filed a supplement last week asking Penny to remove Jamie Spears immediately in case she didn't rule in favor of termination. Rosengart argued once again that Jamie Spears had already conceded that a public battle wasn't in his daughter's best interests.
The professional conservator could work with Montgomery to provide the court with a plan and evidence that would lead to the end of the conservatorship.
Jamie Spears objected to Zabel as his potential successor in a court filing Tuesday. His attorney argued that Zabel doesn't have the experience to manage his daughter's $60 million estate, alleging that public records describe Zabel as once having been scammed out of more than "one million of his own money in a fraudulent real estate project."
Zabel couldn't immediately be reached for comment. He filed paperwork Tuesday consenting to serve as conservator of the estate.
Rosengart has accused Jamie Spears of mismanaging his daughter's finances, profiting from the conservatorship and using Britney Spears' estate to pay to rehabilitate his public image. He defended Zabel's record in a footnote in a separate filing Tuesday, saying Jamie Spears was a "reported alcoholic and gambling addict, with zero financial background or experience in financial matters."
He has also said Jamie Spears' recent filings were "subterfuge, designed to avoid the stigma of being suspended and its consequences." Rosengart cited recent documentaries that have raised disturbing allegations, including claims that Jamie Spears had recording devices planted in his daughter's home and monitored privileged communications with her previous attorney.
"And regardless of the outcome of the allegations, what cannot be genuinely disputed is how deeply upsetting they are to Ms. Spears and if nothing else, they magnify the need to suspend Mr. Spears immediately," Rosengart said.
Bianca Seward, Alicia Victoria Lozano and Diana Dasrath reported from Los Angeles, Doha Madani reported from New York.