LOS ANGELES (AP) – Judge Brenda Penny has been the calm eye of the storm surrounding Britney Spears and the conservatorship that controls her life.
Now all eyes are on her.
The Los Angeles Superior Court Judge has thus far been able to act more as a caretaker than a dictator in the case, but at a potentially pivotal hearing on Wednesday afternoon, she will be pressed to make major decisions on whether to keep Spears’ father on as her conservator, or whether to end the conservatorship altogether.
Spears’ attorney Mathew Rosengart has been aggressively pushing for the ouster of her father James Spears since moments after Penny allowed her to hire Rosengart in July. Penny denied Rosengart’s request for an emergency hearing on the issue, telling the attorney it could wait until Wednesday.
And in a major reversal, James Spears, who first sought the conservatorship in 2008 and has been its primary overseer ever since, has filed a petition to end it altogether. He urged the judge to make a decision on the issue Wednesday and make questions of his status moot.
Britney Spears and Rosengart said in a subsequent filing that they agree with her father that the conservatorship should end, marking the first time she has called for an end to the arrangement in court documents.
They emphasized, however, that it is more important to her that her father be removed, calling it a necessary first step toward her freedom and “ending the Kafkaesque nightmare imposed upon her.”
Rosengart said in another filing this week that James Spears “crossed unfathomable lines” by engaging in illegal surveillance of her, including communications with her lawyer, as reported in “Controlling Britney Spears,” a documentary from the New York Times and the FX network, one of two dueling documentaries released on the eve of the hearing.
Britney Spears was also engaged to her longtime boyfriend Sam Asghari earlier this month, which means putting together a prenuptial agreement that her father should not be involved in, her court filings said.
Carr and Eliscu also use a trove of documents provided to them by an anonymous source, including medical reports that name a geriatric psychologist who declined to disclose whether he had examined the singer. On camera, the two review documents alleging Spears may have been experiencing dementia at the same time she was filming a TV appearance and wonder how someone without the capacity to hire a lawyer could keep up such a demanding performance schedule.
A cinematographer who grew close to Spears while working on an MTV special reads a letter she wrote and gave to him, hoping he might read it on television. An ex-boyfriend, former paparazzi photographer Adnan Ghalib, shows off texts demonstrating how much Spears hated the conservancy. Another former boyfriend, Lutfi, denies rumors he gave her drugs and insists he was used to help justify creating the conservancy.
Particularly for Ghalib and Lutfi, these interviews offer opportunities for them to push back against past criticism that they may have exploited the singer. But given how much the film depends on their perspective to get inside her story, their presence raises questions about whose agenda their comments are really serving.
The film implies that Britney’s father, Jamie Spears, and others took advantage of the singer’s breakdown amid conflicts over her divorce from Kevin Federline and the pressure of constant pursuit by the paparazzi. The documentary also offers a clear explanation of her conservancy, which is divided into two parts: authority over her person and authority over her finances.
“We have very particular standards for conservatorship: You have to be unable to meet your needs for food, clothing and shelter,” Tony Chicotel, a probate conservatorship attorney, says in the film. “Let me put it this way: I’ve represented dozens of conservatees in court. Not one of them has ever had a job.”
While Netflix’s film adds to the constellation of tough reporting on the conservatorship, there’s little question it saw a bit of its impact sapped by the release Friday of Controlling Britney Spears, a Hulu documentary from The New York Times that provides its own detailed look at how the singer’s conservancy may have worked.
Assembled by the team behind Framing Britney Spears — the film released in February that brought wider public attention to Spears’ struggles — Controlling Britney Spears features an interview with a former employee of the security firm that guards the singer. He alleges the company placed listening devices in her bedroom and mirrored her cellphone to closely monitor her communications.
Britney Spears’s conservatorship is heading back to court for a high-stakes
hearing on Wednesday, in which a judge will consider requests to remove her father as the authority over her estate and to terminate the legal arrangement altogether.
The closely watched hearing comes days after a new documentary alleged that Britney Spears’s father, Jamie Spears, and a security team he hired monitored the singer’s private communications and secretly recorded her interactions in her bedroom, including conversations with her boyfriend and children.
The conservatorship requires Spears’s estate to pay for her father’s attorneys and other bills, and Rosengart noted that she has been forced to pay roughly $540,000 for Jamie’s “media matters” as he fights her requests.
Spears has been strongly objecting to the conservatorship for years, records have revealed, but she spoke out publicly for the first time in court in June. She called the arrangement “abusive” and alleged that her father and others controlled intimate details of her personal life, including her birth control, and had forced her to work against her will.
Court records suggested that Spears has also been denied access to her own money, with the conservatorship limiting her to a weekly allowance even while she was earning millions in a Las Vegas residency. Her medical care is currently controlled by a licensed conservator, who has also supported the singer’s request to remove her father.
Fans, organizing under the #FreeBritney movement, have been advocating for the arrangement to end for years. The recent New York Times documentary featured a former employee of Black Box, a security firm hired by her father, who alleged that the company sent infiltrators to investigate the group at their rallies and issued a “threat assessment report” on the fans.
The New York Times’ latest documentary, which debuted Friday, brought new allegations against the singer’s father, James “Jamie” Spears.
A former assistant to Black Box, a security firm employed by the conservatorship, alleged that Jamie Spears asked to monitor all of Britney Spears’ communications, including those to Samuel Ingham, her former attorney. He also accused the firm of planting a recording device in the singer’s home.
Edan Yemini, the CEO of Black Box Security, did not respond to detailed questions about the allegations, according to the Times.
Vivian Thoreen, an attorney for Jamie Spears, said her client has “dedicated his life” to helping his daughter turn her life around. She continued on to say that “all of his actions were well within the parameters of the authority conferred upon him by the court.”