News and Commentary

How Britney Spears Retook Control Of Her Life (And What Her Victory Could Mean For Others)

It took 13 years and a viral fan movement, but Britney Spears’ conservatorship has finally come to an end. And what a long, sad trip it was.

The troubles that led to the singer’s guardianship first came to the world’s attention in 2007, when she began behaving erratically in full tabloid view. She famously shaved her head, attacked a photographer with an umbrella, and had a standoff with police where she allegedly refused to surrender her sons to her ex-husband Kevin Federline according to the custody arrangements outlined in their divorce agreement.

These and other red flags over the state of her mental health led to two separate hospitalizations for psychiatric evaluations in 2008. As a result, a court established a temporary conservatorship, controlled by her father, Jamie Spears. The legal arrangement included two parts—one that gave the senior Spears control over his daughter’s estimated $60 million dollar estate and one that granted him decision-making powers over her as a person.

Typically, this kind of court-ordered control is reserved for people who have dementia or severe psychiatric disorders, and there were questions from the beginning over whether the pop star met this criteria. Those questions grew as she went on to release four albums, embark on a global concert tour that grossed tens of millions of dollars, and spent four years starring in a grueling Las Vegas residency.

The granular oversight her conservators employed went so far as requiring her to pre-submit social media posts. As The New Yorker reported, tweets and Instagram posts that “raised legal questions,” like discussing her guardianship, were deemed “too sensitive to post.”

Her conservatorship team of roughly ten people — headed by Jamie Spears — oversaw all aspects of her professional life, meeting regularly to discuss her legal affairs, public relations, and, of course, her financial situation, including merchandise deals and song-license requests. And nearly all of it was done without her.

So the arrangement continued for 13 years. But the change, when it came, was swift.

The first domino to fall in bringing about the conservatorship’s end was a New York Times documentary that traced the singer’s early career, including how, with her parents’ collaboration, the media machine sexualized and shamed her when she was barely old enough for a driver’s license.

As “Framing Britney Spears” revealed, Jamie Spears was known to enthusiastically tell music executives how wealthy he expected his daughter to become. “The only thing Jamie ever said to me was ‘My daughter’s gonna be so rich, she’s gonna buy me a boat,’” one marketing professional recalled. What did not concern him, according to the film, was the toll having to field questions from media outlets about her virginity and breasts might take on a teenager.

The documentary, released on February 5, was an immediate success, drawing millions of viewers in multiple countries. Within weeks, the phrase “We are sorry Britney” began trending on social media. Called to account, celebrities who had once mocked and disparaged Spears publicly asked for forgiveness. Her ex-boyfriend Justin Timberlake, who notoriously claimed to have had sex with her while Spears maintained she was a virgin, posted an apology on Instagram, saying, “I am deeply sorry for the times in my life when my actions contributed to the problem.”

At that point, the #FreeBritney movement took wing.

Perhaps emboldened by social media support, in April 2021, Spears petitioned to testify in open court about her guardianship. On June 23, she was granted this opportunity.

According to the New Yorker, the night before the hearing, Spears made a 911 emergency call to report that she was a victim of conservatorship abuse. Though recordings of emergency calls are generally public record in California, the county has kept the contents of that call sealed, citing an ongoing investigation. But her conservator’s behavior on the eve of the court date suggests how worried they were about what she would reveal. The New Yorker reported that they spent those hours “frantically” texting one another: “They were worried about what Spears might say the next day, and they discussed how to prepare in the event that she went rogue.”

Go rogue, she did.

The emotional testimony Spears provided to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny transfixed the public, who finally had access — via court transcript — to her side of the story. Far from sounding unable to manage her affairs, a lucid, angry Spears furiously described the emotional toll the arrangement was taking on her.

“I’ve lied and told the whole world I’m OK and I’m happy. It’s a lie,” she said, before adding, “I’ve been in denial. I’ve been in shock. I am traumatized. Fake it ’til you make it, but now I’m telling you the truth, OK? I’m not happy. I can’t sleep. I’m depressed. I cry every day.”

The 39-year-old also claimed that her father was keeping her from marrying her long-time boyfriend (now fiancé) Sam Ashgari and that he and his team had forced her to wear an IUD to prevent her from having any more children:

“I was told right now in the conservatorship, I’m not able to get married or have a baby. I have an I[U]D inside of myself right now so I don’t get pregnant. I wanted to take the IUD out so I could start trying to have another baby, but this so-called team won’t let me go to the doctor to take it out because they don’t want me to have children, any more children.”

The crucial part of Spears’ statement came, however, when she addressed the judge directly, saying, “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.”

Shortly after that hearing, as public outcry grew, the court allowed Spears to choose her own attorney to represent her.

Her choice, prosecutor Mathew Rosengart, had little experience in probate law, the legal area a guardianship would fall under. What he did have was a reputation for being a fierce advocate for his clients. He aggressively moved to have Jamie Spears suspended as conservator of Spears’ estate and waged war in the press while initiating investigations into alleged abuse against her. Many of Spears’ fans began calling him by the nickname “RosenGod.”

With the public overwhelmingly rallying behind Spears, Rosengart petitioned to end the conservatorship once and for all. A few days before the hearing, Spears, who evidently had regained the ability to post what she wanted on her social media accounts, said on Instagram, “This week is gonna be very interesting for me! I haven’t prayed for something more in my life.”

On Nov. 12, Judge Penny answered those prayers, granting the pop star’s request to have the arrangement terminated.

Through his legal team, Jamie Spears still maintains that he had no financial motive for continuing the conservatorship. In a Nov. 1 filing, he insisted he has nothing to hide and will “unconditionally cooperate in transferring all files regarding the estate to Britney’s counsel without delay.”

Rosengart, however, has promised that the reckoning isn’t over. Last month, he filed a 110-page petition asking to depose Jamie Spears over allegations that he illegally placed recording devices in her bedroom without her consent.

While Spears is now free from her conservatorship, her experience could have broader implications for others in a similar position.

A bipartisan effort that includes such politically disparate figures as Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is calling to reexamine conservatorships in light of Spears’ case.

In July, Republican Nancy Mace and Democrat Charlie Crist introduced The Freedom and Right to Emancipate from Exploitation (Free) Act to the House. The legislation would allow an individual under conservatorship to petition to request a court-appointed conservator be replaced with a public conservator, family member, or private agent without needing to prove they’ve been abused. It would also provide state funding for caseworkers to oversee such arrangements.

A press release announcing the bill said, “Ms. Spears is not alone. Her case exemplifies rampant abuses affecting thousands of elderly and disabled Americans. The #FreeBritney movement is hopeful that federal legislation proposed by Congressman Crist will serve as an important first step toward addressing this injustice.”

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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