By Aron Solomon
On Thursday afternoon, TMZ first reported that Jamie Spears would agree to begin the process to remove himself as conservator for his daughter, Britney Spears. To Ms. Spears and her fans, this is truly remarkable progress in the few weeks since the court allowed her to hire her own lawyer and move forward with the process of seeking to extricate herself from a 13-year conservatorship.
For those unfamiliar with the legal process known as a conservatorship, under California Probate Code § 1801, it is a court case where a judge appoints a responsible person or organization (the “conservator”) to care for another adult (called the “conservatee”) who cannot care for himself or herself or manage his or her own finances.
Britney Spears is under what’s known in California as a General Probate Conservatorship. It’s the most common type of conservatorship of adults who cannot take care of themselves or their finances, which were the conditions under which the conservatorship began and her father, Jamie, Spears, was named conservator 13 years ago. Generally, people under a conservatorship are elderly people, but can also be younger people who have been seriously impaired in an accident, or (as happens with some frequency in California) celebrities. Some famous celebrity conservatorships have involved Joni Mitchell, Brian Wilson, and Randy Meisner of The Eagles.
Britney’s new lawyer, Mathew Rosengart, has made it clear that he would act quickly to seek removal of Mr. Spears as conservator. They even motioned the court to move up the hearing from September 29th to August 23rd. This request was denied this week, so the hearing remains set for September 29th, which is still quite fast. As a point of reference, especially with COVID-19 related court backlogs in California and across the nation, it could take a year or more for any of us to get a similar hearing.
There have been multiple allegations as to improprieties under Mr. Spears’ watch as executor. It is not outside of the realm of belief that Mr. Spears was informed by Ms. Spears’ counsel that if he voluntarily stepped down, they would consider pursuing these avenues less aggressively.
It’s also clear that now that the Britney situation is the number 1 piece of celebrity news, all Jamie Spears is receiving is really bad press. Perhaps he was advised that for optics if nothing else he needed to step down as conservator and out of the spotlight.
It is worth noting that because of a large number of abuses, California takes conservatorship abuse comparatively seriously. If charges are formally brought against Mr. Spears for malfeasance and financial misappropriations while conservator, he could face felony charges.
As insightful analysts have observed, freeing herself from this conservatorship would be not only a massive win for Britney Spears, but for women around the world who have been deprived of their own autonomy.
While today’s news is exciting for Ms. Spears and her fans around the world, it has no bearing on the issue of ultimate importance for her – whether the court will eventually agree to end the conservatorship. For this to happen, Ms. Spears will need to prove that she no longer needs to be under the control of a conservatorship. So while this week’s news is a nice battle to win, it is by no means a winning of the war.