Britney Spears, whose ongoing conservatorship has become a source of public concern and political focus, was granted permission Wednesday by the judge overseeing her case to hire an attorney of her choice. The judge also approved her hiring of former federal prosecutor Mathew Rosengart, who attended the hearing.

According to NBC News and CNN’s reporting of the hearing, Spears spoke by phone and became emotional describing what she called “conservatorship abuse” at the hands of her father, Jamie. Spears told the court she wanted to press charges against him, and repeated the same plea she made at the last hearing on June 23: that the court terminate her conservatorship.

Since that dramatic June appearance — in which Spears, 39, made a rare public statement about the misery she has endured as a conservatee and asked for the termination of the “embarrassing” arrangement — fans and observers have anxiously awaited new developments. Many rallied across the country Wednesday, including in Los Angeles and the District of Columbia, in support of her as the case returned to court once again.

Conservatorships are notoriously complex arrangements, and Spears’s has been especially confusing for observers, as many of its details and inner workings have been concealed from public view. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about Spears’ conservatorship so you can get up to speed.

Britney Spears Conservatorship Explainer

Britney Spears arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” on July 22, 2019. When Spears speaks to a judge at her own request on Wednesday, June. 23, 2021, she’ll do it 13 years into a court-enforced conservatorship that has exercised vast control of her life and money by her father. Spears has said the conservatorship saved her from collapse and exploitation. But she has sought more control over how it operates, and says she wants her father out. Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File

Who is Jamie Spears?

Britney Spears Conservatorship Explainer

Jamie Spears, father of singer Britney Spears, leaves the Stanley Mosk Courthouse on Oct. 24, 2012, in Los Angeles. AP file photo

Jamie Spears, 69, is Britney Spears’ father. He was married to her mother, Lynne Spears, 66, until 2002. Because their daughter’s career began in childhood, Jamie and Lynne have long been closely involved with her professional life.

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Spears has now twice spoken out against her father in court this year. Both times, she decried his handling of the conservatorship as cruel and abusive. (According to NBC reporter Alicia Victoria Lozano, Jamie’s legal counsel says Spears’s father is “hurt” by the allegations.)

How did Britney Spears end up under a conservatorship in the first place?

In 2008, after months of erratic behavior during her high-profile divorce and custody battle (see: 2007’s widely publicized head-shaving spectacle, and the paparazzi confrontation soon afterward that resulted in Spears attacking a photographer’s car with an umbrella), Spears was placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold. While she was hospitalized in Los Angeles, Spears’s parents initiated proceedings to place her under the temporary conservatorship of her father, Jamie, and a lawyer named Andrew Wallet, who was appointed by the court.

Why is the conservatorship in the news now?

The conservatorship has been a source of curiosity for some fans for more than a decade, but interest in it went mainstream in February with the arrival of the New York Times-Hulu documentary “Framing Britney Spears.” The film (which was nominated for two Emmys) re-examined and re-litigated some of the biggest controversies of Spears’s career, quietly making the case that the obsessive, invasive tabloid culture of the late 1990s and 2000s was largely responsible for her brief era of bizarre behavior and, indirectly, the conservatorship that followed. Its popularity prompted some viewers to demand apologies from journalists and other figures who made comments to and about Spears’s sexuality, public image and parenting decisions that were perceived as rude or disrespectful — including Justin Timberlake, Diane Sawyer and Matt Lauer.

In June, Spears made a rare request to speak on her own behalf at a court hearing and asked that the virtual proceedings be open to the public. On June 23, Spears spoke at length about the “demoralizing” indignities and miseries of her life as a conservatee: She described being forced to take prescription drugs, as well as mandated to go multiple times a week to therapy sessions in places where paparazzi and the public could clearly see her coming and going. She also described wanting to have another baby but being barred by her conservators from visiting a doctor to have her IUD removed.

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Spears requested toward the end of the hearing that her conservatorship be terminated entirely. Local protests timed to her hearing on July 14 have since been organized in cities around the country and abroad, some of them by the #FreeBritney movement.

What is the #FreeBritney movement?

The #FreeBritney movement is an activist group, formed mostly online, that began to materialize in 2009 soon after the details of Spears’ conservatorship became public. Those affiliated with #FreeBritney often allege that Spears is a victim of conservatorship abuse: Most believe she is in fact capable enough to live independently, and some believe that her conservators placed her under their care unfairly and for longer than necessary for their own benefit.

How long has Britney Spears been under a conservatorship?

Spears has been under her conservatorship for 13 years. The arrangement was considered temporary at first, but in time, it seems to have become permanent — a common trajectory for conservatorships, according to experts.

Periodic hearings to renew temporary guardianships or conservatorships “take up a lot of judicial resource. It’s difficult for the family. It’s difficult for the protected person,” says Cukier. “So sometimes the courts will say, ‘Look, you’ve been here for three temporary periods, just make it permanent. And if you want to terminate the conservatorship later’ — which is something Britney is dealing with — ‘then come back to court with your medical evidence.'”

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Who are the conservators?

Spears’ conservatorship has undergone multiple changes over the years since it was first implemented. Wallet, the court-appointed lawyer, resigned as co-conservator in 2019, leaving Jamie Spears the sole conservator. Jamie stepped away temporarily later that year after undergoing colon surgery. In the interim, his responsibilities were assigned to a professional fiduciary named Jodi Montgomery. In 2020, Spears requested through her lawyer that Montgomery be made conservator in her father’s stead, and that a bank be appointed as a conservator of her estate. The bank, Bessemer Trust, was approved to be a co-conservator alongside Jamie.

In July, however, Spears said that she wanted to be released from her conservatorship entirely, and soon afterward, Bessemer Trust asked to withdraw its involvement. (According to the New York Times, the bank said in its July 2021 court filing that it had not begun acting as a co-conservator and had not been authorized to do so before withdrawing.)

In the days after Spears’s emotional court testimony asking for her “life back,” her conservators began to squabble among themselves. Jamie Spears, for example, blamed Montgomery’s handling of the conservatorship for some of the hardship Spears described and called for an investigation, according to court documents. (Montgomery’s lawyers told TMZ that Montgomery had only ever conducted the conservatorship in accordance with the California Code of Ethics.) And when Montgomery asked the court for extra security in response to death threats she received after Spears’s testimony, Jamie filed an objection.

People Britney Spears

Britney Spears’ newly appointed lawyer Mathew Rosengart is interviewed outside the Stanley Mosk Courthouse following a hearing concerning the pop singer’s conservatorship, Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Los Angeles. Spears was granted permission by a judge to hire a lawyer of her own choice. AP file photo

Who has spoken out in support of Britney Spears?

Several celebrities have voiced their support for the pop star. Rapper Missy Elliott and actress Jameela Jamil on Twitter called for Spears’s release from the arrangement. Christina Aguilera, Spears’s contemporary at the top of the teen pop charts in the 2000s, tweeted a lengthy thread championing Spears’s cause, saying, “It is unacceptable that any woman, or human, wanting to be in control of their own destiny might not be allowed to live life as they wish.” Mariah Carey also tweeted: “We love you Britney!!! Stay strong.”

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Madonna, meanwhile, posted a photo of herself wearing a Britney Spears shirt in her Instagram story in July, along with the caption: “Give this woman her life back.” Paris Hilton said on her podcast, “This Is Paris,” that Spears had “built a huge empire. She’s a legend, she’s an icon, she’s a mother. She’s amazing and she has these people controlling her money, her life.” Miley Cyrus changed the lyrics to “Party in the U.S.A.” at a performance in Las Vegas to include the words “Free Britney.”

Even Spears’ younger sister — Jamie Lynn, former star of Disney’s “Zoey 101” and an actress on Netflix’s “Sweet Magnolias” — broke with her family’s history of silence around the conservatorship to make a statement. “I don’t care if she wants to run away to a rainforest and have a zillion babies in the middle of nowhere, or if she wants to come back and dominate the world the way she has done so many times before, because I have nothing to gain or lose either way,” the younger Spears said in an Instagram story days after the June 23 court hearing. “Maybe I didn’t support her the way the public would like me to, with a hashtag on a public platform. But I can assure you I’ve supported my sister long before there was a hashtag, and I’ll support her long after.”

Who has resigned from Britney Spears’ team?

In the weeks since her blistering court testimony, several people associated with Spears’ conservatorship have distanced themselves or quit.

In the June hearing, Spears noted that she had never been informed that her conservatorship could be terminated, and added that “my attorney says I can’t — it’s not good, I can’t let the public know anything they did to me.” Soon afterward, Samuel D. Ingham III, the court-appointed lawyer who became Spears’s attorney when she was deemed unfit to choose her own representation, placed a request with the court to step down from his role. His resignation was approved Wednesday.

In addition to Bessemer Trust withdrawing from its role as co-conservator of Spears’s finances, Spears’ longtime manager Larry Rudolph also resigned, citing Spears’s apparent indication that she plans to officially retire.

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What will it take for Britney Spears to get out of her conservatorship?

In theory, termination of a conservatorship is somewhat simple, according to Cukier. Theoretically, if Cukier were to find herself under a conservatorship she no longer needed, she says, “I would go into court with my clinical data showing that I have been evaluated for my mental capacity to manage my own finances. And I would prove to the court that I now have been restored to mental capacity to handle these issues.”

The problem, of course, is that it’s often not quite that simple. “If the person is under conservatorship, then there’s a lot of presumptions that are made,” Cukier says. “That they’re not trustworthy, or that their mental impairment is impacting their thought process in wanting to get a doctor’s note. It creates this presumption, it creates a prejudice, if you will, and doctors might be like, ‘Oh, yeah, right.’ It’s sort of like the person in a mental institution who says, ‘I don’t need to be here anymore.’ Well, everybody says that. And some people are correct.”

For Spears’ request for termination to be granted, Cukier says, she would need a lawyer who could prove to the court that her capabilities had been restored and that the conservatorship was no longer necessary.

Is the U.S. government involved with Britney’s conservatorship battle?

The federal government is not involved in the court case itself, but Spears’ ongoing court battle has caught the attention of several Washington politicians, who have recently pledged to investigate existing conservatorship law and improve oversight of conservatorships and guardianships across U.S. states. In March, Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., called for a hearing on abusive conservatorships.

Last month’s hearing inspired another wave of support from Washington. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said on his podcast in July that what’s happening to Spears “needs to end,” while Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said in an interview with Politico that while the federal government’s power to change conservatorship law is limited, it isn’t nonexistent. “It turns out that the federal government collects a lot of data about conservatorships: where they’re used, when they’re used, how long they’re used. But they keep all that data secret,” she said. “This is an area where sunshine might help.”


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