Talking about #freebritney

The past couple years I’ve been fascinated by freebritney from a disability rights and legal perspective, but there’s so many developments in the case recently, I find it all quite fascinating (and am hopeful that her terrible situation raises the profile of conservativeship abuse and personal autonomy for other people with disabilities.)

The basics to recap:

There are two kinds of conservatorships: conservatorship of the person and conservatorship of the estate. The conservator of the person has control over health care decisions, lifestyle and location, work, relationships (including friendships), contracts (including marriage), and other things (if the conservator can drive, etc).

Conservator of the estate controls anything involving money and approves or denies any expense for the conservatee.

Both are reviewed annually by the courts.

2007
Britney had an acute mental health crisis after having 2 children in under 1 year, while going through a divorce and a custody battle under intense media scrutiny.

2008
While in the midst of the nasty custody battle, her ex-husband and her father put her on a 51/50 mental health hold in California, a legal hold that requires hospitalization. At the time it was stated she had a mental health episode while locked in the bathroom with her kids. At that time she was put under a temporary conservatorship of the person in California. Later conservatorship of the estate was added.

Her father, Jamie Spears, was conservator of the person. Co-conservators of the estate were her father and attorney Andrew Wallet, picked by her father.

She has since said that she only agreed to this because it was told to her this was temporary and it was the only way to keep custody of her kids.

In late 2008, the conservatorship was made permanent but according to the court records is voluntary and there was no capacity filing (i.e. she was not found to not have capacity or evaluated for fitness, she was voluntarily entering into this.)

Britney was not present at the hearing to make the conservatorship permanent, she is not allowed to pick her own lawyer, and no notice was given to her of the hearing.

The court-appointed lawyer for her is Sam Ingham. Ingham also represents her father in court, her conservator - she does not get her own lawyer.

2009
2009 Court filings show that her father gets $18,000 per month for expenses paid for by Britney’s estate to be her conservator. Her estate also pays for lawyer Ingham’s services, which costs about $500K per year.

She was granted 50% visitation with her 2 children, but the children’s father have full legal custody because she was not allowed to while under a conservatorship.

Late 2009, Britney gave an interview implying that she was under a lot of controls right now. “If I wasn’t under the restraints I’m under right now, with all the lawyers and doctors and people analyzing me every day”

2009-2016
Britney stayed publicly silent about the conservatorship, but numerous times she filed with the court with complaints about her father being her conservator. In a 2014 filing she said his drinking was an issue and she added a long list of other grievances about his role and influence.

Her lawyer (who is also her father’s lawyer as the conservator) filed a grievance and said she was “sick of being taken advantage of” and felt she was “the one working and earning her money but everyone around her is on her payroll."

Meanwhile, she released 4 albums.

In 2013, she began did the most financially successful Las Vegas residency of any artist, performing 3 shows a week, choreographing the show herself. At that time, she was employing over 200 people through her music career and residency. Her father, as the conservator of the estate, gets a cut of all her income and revenue.

2016-2019
During this time when Britney was fighting her father’s conservatorship in the court, her father filed for her conservatorship to be valid in 18 more states - anywhere she had family or friends or frequently visited.

December 2018
She petitioned to have the conservatorship changed and was evaluated for 5 days, several hours a day, by a therapist, over the holidays- not allowing her to visit Louisana with her children during their holiday break. The therapist died and the records from that evaluation were never submitted to court.

Her father told her over the phone that she “failed” the evaluation and would be checked into a rehab facility at the tune of $60K a month, paid for by her.

January 2019
Britney announced, suddenly, that her already-in-progress 2nd Vegas residency was cancelled so she could focus on her “dad’s health”. Following this statement, Britney’s Co-conservator of the estate, Wallet, stepped down suddenly. At the time he stepped down, his annual compensation was $426,000.

During this time, Britney’s dad and conservator, was being investigated by for child abuse of her two children - after her ex-husband reported him due to an “inappropriate physical altercation” with her 13-year-old son.

These charges did not hit the media as they were sealed records, and the case was dropped due to insufficient evidence.

January - April 2019
Details from this time were filled in by Britney’s 2021 testimony and an anonymous source, however, they line up with things known at that time from other sources and were confirmed in the court documents revealed in the New York Times June 2021 article.

After Britney cancelled her Vegas residency, her dad and conservator put her into a “rehab”/mental health facility for 4 months where she was required to do 10 hours a day of therapy. She was required to change in front of several staff, and had no personal autonomy. She also was put into substance rehab- but she does not drink alcohol.

Her being at this facility was kept secret for months - when it was found out by gossip media that she was there after months of fans being suspicious of Britney’s absence on social media (the only posts for months being re-posts of old content), a post was made saying she was checking in herself for a “mental health break” that day despite clear evidence she had been there for months. She also is not legally able to make health care decisions for herself, so she would not be able to check herself in.

A whistleblower formerly employed by the law firm involved in Britney’s conservatorship claims that Britney was being held against her will via a voicemail to the Britney’s Gram podcast, causing an uproar within the #FreeBritney movement.

Summer 2019

A restraining order between Britney’s dad and her children was put in place.

Jamie, her dad, asked to step down temporarily as co-conservator of the person due to “health reasons”, later thought to be due to the possible charges and restraining order. He remained conservator of the estate. The temporary conservatorship of the person went to professional Jodi Montgomery.

Later that year, Britney’s 50% visitation with her sons was reduced to 10% (possibly due the influence of her father on her day to day life as her conservator, but those are family court records and not public.)

August 2020
Over 12 years, Forbes found that her father’s compensation from her estate has totaled $7.4 million.

Britney petitioned the court for her dad to be permanently removed from her conservatorship (rather than temporarily) and for, her temporary guardian, Jodi Montgomery to be installed as guardian of her personal and health decisions, and a “qualified corporate fiduciary” to manage her estate.

The day after Britney filed to remove her dad from the conservatorship, her dad petitioned to bring lawyer Wallet back on as a co-conservator. According to court filings, Britney said she would not be able to afford Wallet, as she has “no desire” to perform again at this time (once again showing Wallet’s compensation is tied to her performance, illuminating why he stepped down).

November 2020
The court approved firm Bessemer Trust, as co-conservator of Britney’s conservatorship of the estate with her father.

March 2021
Britney formally requested in a court petition that Montgomery be made permanent guardian of the person and to remove her dad from resuming in September 2021 when Montgomery’s temporary conservator of the person was removed.

She did not request to end the conservatorship.

During this time, her dad spent $800,000 in legal fees in 3 months from Britney’s estate to go on a PR tour to rehabilitate his image, after a NYTime’s documentary about the conservatorship. He spent $50K a week on PR according to court filings.

June 2021
In the bombshell testimony to the court, the first time she’d been directly allowed to address the court without going through her lawyer, she said her lawyer Sam Ingham did not inform her she could petition to end the conservatorship over the previous 13 years.

She also alleged abuse - particularly when she asked to not do a new Vegas Residency because she wanted a break from work. This abuse including claiming she wasn’t taking her meds, switching her meds to lithium without notice (to which she had a bad reaction) and then forcing her into a “rehab” facility for 3 months where she was required to do 10 hours a day of therapy.

She also has wanted to have another kid for years, but says that she has an IUD (birth control) in place and the conservatorship will not allow her to make an appointment to get it removed.

She also says she’s been forced to change her therapy to 3 times a week (from once a week) and for it to be to be in a very public place where she will be photographed by papparazzi leaving the building (rather than in her home as she did for the previous 10 years).

She said she’s been forced to work without control over the money she earns from that work, despite being capable of working and employing “busses of people” on tour. She said legally her situation is akin to human trafficking.

She asked to be able to hire her own lawyer. She also asked (via her lawyer) the court to investigate the reasonableness of the $800,000 in legal fees her father spent on his own PR.

Later that month, her court-appointed lawyer who has earned around an estimated $4 million dollars from Britney’s case, Sam Ingham, asked the court to resign.

July 2021

Britney was able to speak to the court again yesterday. She detailed more abuse by her father as conservator and asked to officially charge him with conservator abuse. The court approved her allowed to hire her own lawyer, and retained a former US federal prosecutor, Mathew Rosengart. Sam Ingham was allowed to step down.

Bessemer Trust, the firm acting as co-conservator of the estate, also resigned, saying they were told that the conservatorship was voluntary (as it is legally defined) and they do not want to be involved after her June testimony.

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Why was her father allowed any power in the conservatorship when he’d previously filed for bankruptcy. Seriously.

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Apparently professional conservators (investment firms, guardians of the person) get evaluated for fitness and credentials by the court, but family members don’t.

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I really, really, really have to wonder about the doctors who are in charge of her care in any area as well

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#freebritney

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Gosh this is all so so damning. This dude is evil.

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I know! The really fascinating part of this to me is that there is evidence the SAME THING has been done to other child stars - using this method to control their estates.

Amanda Bynes (a former child disney star) was placed on a 51/50 hold by the same lawyer that worked on Britney Spears - after publicly accusing her father of abuse when she was a child - and then her parents tried to get permanent conservatorship over her in the same no-notice legal process. She was able to fight it.

But obviously, there are a lot more people who are affected by conservatorship abuse that don’t catch the attention of US Senators (Can you believe BOTH Ted Cruz and Elizabeth Warren have both spoken out about Britney Spears’ case?) - what are we missing within this legal system. It does seem it’s far more ripe for abuse when there’s a lot of assets at stake.

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I hope that this case is useful for non-famous disabled folks who have been forced to undergo sterilization and

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Lord. I knew it was bad but these details are just horrific.

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Two more things I learned from watching a lawyer break down court minute orders:

  • her dad spent $1.7 million on lawyers (that she paid for) for himself in 9 months, including $200K to prepare a petition to FIGHT Bessemer trust from coming on as co-conservator, something Britney requested as conservatee

  • Bessemer trust was approved in November to come on, but Britney’s court-appointed $500K per year lawyer, did not file the official paperwork for 6 months past deadline, meaning they weren’t allowed to officially join until June 30. They asked to resign July 1 after Britney testified it wasn’t voluntary - which means that they have NEVER seen Daddy Spears books for the estate… a forensic accountant needs to get their hands on this book

  • he approved the business manager getting an extra $400K per year when she was no longer touring and therefore bringing in less commission, without notifying Britney or the court

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This is an understatement, but jesus what a horrible person he is!

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Well that’s a gigantic mess. Some of those expenses sure don’t sound legal or reasonable.

I expect it would be too much to hope a celebrity case would improve laws or precedents for non-celebrity situations.

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How often does conservatorship happen for non-rich people? It seems like an intensive and expensive way to control a mentally ill person. Does it happen when the person being controlled doesn’t have the money to pay for it?

It’s weird to think that there could be a rich person problem related to the potentially abusive control of mentally ill people, but there it is.

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apparently it happens really commonly for elderly people, neurodivergent people, people with mental illness, and people with disabilities. One of the Forbes articles says AARP estimates 1.5 million Americans but it seems there is no actual data available.

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Thanks for looking that up. The equivalent process in my province ( it’s different in every province in Canada) is quite different. This arrangement seems to favour abusers.

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I’ve been tracking it for a while. Elder financial abuse is so challenging to address, because some people do need support, but how do you set up systems that aren’t exploitive? We know that the elderly are disproportionately targeted for scams, both illegal and the legal ones (e.g. hot water rentals, telecom upsell). But taking away autonomy puts them at risk for other ones like this. And they’re blamed for being paranoid and gullible.

Forced institutionalization is also a thing for me, as there are old stories from my family, and also when I was growing up a family friend’s child was put into an old age home in her 20s because her dad couldn’t care for her physical needs any more.

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It’s such a complicated issue.
In my province there is a specific government department that supervises all substitute decision maker relationships (what they’re called here) and can act as a fiduciary if needed. There is still lots of abuse, but it’s easy to report and a bit harder to hide. The supervising body has no profit motive so in theory it’s a better system? IDK. I wish every vulnerable person had trustworthy support, but it’s impossible to legislate that.

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Believe it or not, it looks like it will. Ted Cruz (very republican) and Elizabeth Warren (very liberal) are teamed up to investigate at the federal level guardanships due to this.

Also, states folks are introducing laws around reproductive rights for people in guardanships/conservatorships because both conservatives and liberals are concerned about her being forced to have an IUD - people with disabilities can be forcibly sterilized and are, often.

Absolutely. We don’t have exact numbers because it’s state by state but over 1.1 million people are in guardanships in the US.

It happens to non-rich people, elderly and disabled, all the time. The reason so much money is changing hands in britney’s case is that a system set up NOT for this situation is being exploited to control her fortune.

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Today’s livestream is all about this topic

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Our neighborhood paper was covering a case for years. Just a normal person, I remember something like “free Sue Lee” going on for a long time.

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