Legal Update: Brittany Spears, Her Conservatorship & California Law

As seen in, by Diane Lilli

Diane Lilli

Brittany Spears tells judge of her pain under control of conservatorship

 The people who did this to me should not get away. Ma’am, my dad, and anyone involved in this conservatorship, and my management, who played a huge role in punishing me when I said no—Ma’am, they should be in jail.”
Brittany Spears

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Celebrity Brittany Spears, though living under a public microscope for most of her life, is still trapped in a gilded cage controlled by legal guardians who control every move she makes. For thirteen years, Ms. Spears has lived under the legally binding arrangement that gives power over her personal, business, and other legal decisions to others, including her father Jamie Spears.

This California Conservatorship is created for people who can’t take care of themselves. Yet, since her bakers’ dozen of years under the control of others, Ms. Spears has headlined global tours bringing in over a hundred thirty million dollars; released four albums, and successfully performed in a grueling schedule in a Las Vegas residency for four years.

Simultaneously, much like a racehorse, Ms. Spears has brought in vast riches to the group that controls her life, while not being able to have the freedom to marry, have a child, or enjoy making personal decisions or spend money. 

When Ms. Spears requested and received a hearing in late June, the ten-person team who meet weekly to decide all decisions for her personal, legal and professional life, she was prepared for battle. Published reports popped up on numerous websites, news sites and social media that Ms. Spears called 911 in California to report she was a victim of conservatorship abuse. The next day, in a call to the hearing, Ms. Spears said, “Somebody’s done a good job at exploiting my life. I feel like it should be an open-court hearing—they should listen and hear what I have to say.”   

In court, the world-renowned performer, in a twenty-minute speech, told the judge that she is a victim of being abused by the very people legally allowed to control her life.

 “The people who did this to me should not get away,” Spears said to the judge.“Ma’am, my dad, and anyone involved in this conservatorship, and my management, who played a huge role in punishing me when I said no—Ma’am, they should be in jail.”

Her allegations included being isolated, medicated, emotionally abused and financially taken advantage of by the conservatorship. Ms. Spears also blamed the legal system, because she had been ignored and told to keep her prison-like existence secret.

“It concerns me I’ve been told I’m not allowed to expose the people who did this to me,” said Ms. Spears to the judge. “All I want is to own my money, for this to end, and for my boyfriend to drive me in his … car.”

What is a Conservatorship in California? 

In California, a conservatorship is a legal arrangement where a court or judge appoints a representative to make decisions on behalf of the “conservatee.” The conservative is considered deemed impaired due to conditions such as dementia, intellectual disability or serious mental illness, and is deemed unfit to make independent decisions. 

The Rights of the conservatives that are taken away include their freedom to make medical and financial decisions, basic life choices such a who to marry, whether or not to have children, and financial control over their own money.  

For Ms. Spears, the conservatorship was split into two teams: the “conservator of the person” for personal matters and “the conservator of the estate” for financial ones.

Ms. Spears is under a probate conservatorship, created for people with intellectual disabilities or dementia. A probable conservatorship is granted indefinitely by a county probate judge. However, the conservatee can petition to end it. 

Under California law, the conservatorship ruling the singer’s life in every way has benefited by multi-million dollar international performances by Ms. Spears. Along with her father, the beneficiaries of this conservatory include numerous hires such as numerous managers, multiple agents, producers, lawyers, publicists, and others.

Now, legal questions brought on by The “Brittany” effect are international news.

Questions about the legality of California conservatorships include: Under what conditions is it legal to strip people of their rights, to protect their well-being? Does the current California system protect against abuse? 

With the dramatic rise of homeless and mentally ill people on the streets in California, leading to more conservatorships, other questions are being asked by legislators who propose new laws, including: Does the California law make it too easy to place people on conservatorships? Does the California conservatorship process violate people’s rights?

California law requires that anyone place under a conservatorship receive five days’ notice before any conservatorship takes effect. However, this rule but can be bypassed if one person, a judge, decides that conservatees, such as Ms. Spears, may suffer “immediate and substantial harm.” 

In the case of Ms. Spears, the judge appointed a probate lawyer, Sam Ingham. But the judge also granted the conservators the legal right, immediately, to waive the requirement to notify Ms. Spears this was happening. 

There is little transparency into the number of people, along with Ms. Spears, who are under conservatorships in California. 

Assemblymember Evan Low, a Democrat from Campbell, California wants to change this lack of transparency. 

Low proposed the new Assembly Bill 1194, in which he calls for a report that would detail the positives and negatives of current California conservatorship laws, methods to prevent conflicts of interest, measures to prevent conservators from paying companies in which they have a financial interest, and measures to allow transparency.

“We want to pull back the curtain,”  said Low. 

Ms. Spears agrees.

“It makes no sense,” she told the judge in her hearing. “The laws need to change.”