On Wednesday afternoon, Britney Spears' conservatorship case will be back in front of a judge at Los Angeles Superior Court. This is the first return to court after Spears herself spoke to the judge last month, pleading for her 13-year conservatorship to end.
Wednesday's hearing involves a host of parties. The list of what they are putting before Judge Brenda Penny is pretty long, and in some cases the participants are at distinct odds with each other. In a word: It's complicated. Here's a who's who of who's involved and what they're looking for in this court hearing.
Britney Spears' father, Jamie, was the one who originally requested that his daughter be placed in a conservatorship, in February 2008 — as a temporary measure initially and then one made permanent in October of that year.
Since then, Jamie Spears has been primarily in charge of Britney Spears' conservatorship, handling both her money matters and her day-to-day life decisions. The aptly named lawyer Andrew Wallet was co-conservator of her finances until he resigned in March 2019.
Two years ago, Jamie Spears stepped aside from being the conservator of his daughter's "person" — that is, handling her life and personal decisions. As of last November, and over his objections, he was supposed to share the duties of being the conservator of her estate (encompassing money and financial decisions) with a professional company called Bessemer Trust, but Bessemer never took up that role.
Bessemer will be in court on Wednesday too. More on that below.
In September 2019, Montgomery, a licensed personal fiduciary and care professional, was appointed as conservator of Britney Spears' person when Spears' father faced a health crisis. In March, Spears' current attorney, Samuel Ingham, asked for Montgomery to become Spears' permanent conservator of person, but Judge Penny has not ruled on that yet. (If Spears formally asks to be freed of the conservatorship at any point soon, the request may be moot.)
After Britney Spears spoke out in court last month, Jamie Spears' lawyers submitted a filing suggesting that Montgomery was the reason for the pop star's unhappiness with the conservatorship. He also asked the court to launch an investigation into the truthfulness of his daughter's statements in court — which, like everything and everyone else involved in this case, would be something that Britney Spears would end up paying for herself. But according to redacted texts Montgomery submitted to the court, the singer seems to trust and appreciate her presence and guidance.
Last week, Montgomery filed a petition asking the court to allow Spears a way toward getting new counsel, which the judge will be hearing on Wednesday — more on that below. Montgomery also has told the court that, along with Spears' medical team, she is currently putting together a new care plan, with the eventual goal of freeing the singer from conservatorship.
Montgomery also asked the court to make Spears' estate pay for costly extra security for her personally, stating that she had received death threats. In response, Jamie Spears filed paperwork to block that claim. Penny won't be hearing any of this on Wednesday, but Montgomery and the elder Spears now are locked into sending heated, accusation-filled court filings back and forth at each other.
Samuel D. Ingham III has been Spears' court-appointed attorney ever since Judge Reva Goetz, Penny's predecessor, first placed the pop star into the conservatorship in 2008. According to The New Yorker, Spears has been paying Ingham $520,000 per year for his services.
In last month's statement to the court, Spears appeared partly to blame Ingham for her unhappiness, saying that she was unaware she had the right to ask for the conservatorship to end and that "my lawyer, Sam, has been very scared for me to go forward." Last week, Ingham formally requested to resign from representing Spears. Additionally, another law firm that Ingham brought in to assist him, Loeb & Loeb, is also asking to withdraw.
According to The New York Times, Ingham had been looking for changes to the conservatorship as early as 2014. The paper reported that in a closed hearing, Ingham questioned Jamie Spears' role as conservator, citing his heavy drinking, among other issues. Last November, Ingham told the court that the singer is "afraid of her father" and "will not perform again if her father is in charge of her career."
The question of who will replace Ingham is an open one. Ingham himself suggested in his written resignation request that he be replaced with another court-appointed attorney. Jodi Montgomery filed a separate petition asking Judge Penny to appoint a guardian ad litem who can help Spears select her own attorney. And Spears' mother, Lynne Spears, filed her own petition, asking the court to allow her daughter to select a new lawyer independently.
On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and 25 other civil rights and disability rights organizations filed an amicus brief with the court to support Spears being able to select her own attorney. Look for Penny to make a decision on this front on Wednesday.
This wealth management firm agreed in November 2020 to come in alongside Jamie Spears as a co-conservator of Britney Spears' finances. The firm now says that it had not actually taken up that role yet, nor had it taken any fees. After hearing Spears' remarks in court, Bessemer filed a request to remove itself from the situation, stating that it was not aware that the singer wanted to terminate the conservatorship. Penny will hear the company's petition to resign Wednesday.
SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:
This afternoon, a prominent case involving pop singer Britney Spears will be back in front of a judge at Los Angeles Superior Court. It's about her conservatorship, which for 13 years has given her little legal control over her life. Last month, Spears pleaded with a judge to end that. And today's hearing involves multiple sets of requests related to her future.
NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas has been untangling the pileup of petitions.
ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Judge Brenda Penny will hear requests from Spears' current lawyer, the singer's mother and the caretaker who looks after Spears' well-being, as well as from a company that had signed on to help take care of her finances. Lawyer Samuel D. Ingham III was appointed to the singer's case in 2008, when she first went into the conservatorship. In court last month, Spears accused him of not telling her that she could ask for the conservatorship to end. He's now asking the court to allow him to resign. Similarly, a wealth management company called Bessemer Trust that was supposed to help look after her finances is also asking to withdraw. Two other requests are aimed at mapping out what happens next, whether Britney Spears can hire a new lawyer herself or if perhaps the court should appoint someone else to help her with that process.
Nina Kohn, a professor at Syracuse University who specializes in elder law, says the competing interests are almost inevitable.
NINA KOHN: Part of what goes along with fame is fortune. And certainly, fortune does play a role in this type of situation because where there is a lot of money at stake, there may be a feeling that there is more reason to step in and protect the individual.
TSIOULCAS: What many fans and rights advocates are most hoping to see, though, that the singer will be able to terminate the conservatorship that has dictated her life, career and fortune for the past 13 years is likely still a ways away.
Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR News, New York.
(SOUNDBITE OF IAN EWING, CHROMONICCI AND PHILANTHROPE'S "ZEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.