Entertainment

Control of Britney Spears’s Estate Debated at Court Hearing

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After a week of swirling social media chatter, fan speculation, and critical re-evaluations of Britney Spears’ life and music career, the legal battle over her personal well-being and finances resumed Thursday in a brief, ongoing trial that focused on the Subject focused the details of estate administration, legal representation and scheduling.

Despite the fanfare surrounding the case, it was normal business in a Los Angeles courthouse as Judge Brenda Penny did not order material changes to the conservatory that has overseen much of Spears’ existence since 2008.

The 39-year-old singer was the subject of a new New York Times documentary, Framing Britney Spears, which premiered last week and sparked renewed talks about the case. In addition to tracing the singer’s career as a child star and teenage pop sensation, the film also focused on Spears’ recent attempts by a court-appointed attorney to remove her father from the conservatory – a complex legal arrangement that usually used for most of the sick, old, or frail – that it has been helping drive for more than a decade.

Some fans have tried, under the #FreeBritney banner, to portray the conservatory as an unfair means of taking control of the singer who has struggled with her mental health over the years. Her father’s representatives, Jamie Spears, have said that his oversight was to protect his daughter’s life and money. The singer has not objected to the setup for many years.

That all changed last year when Spears attorney Samuel D. Ingham III said on file that the singer “strongly disapproved” of her father as a conservator and would not perform again if Jamie Spears stayed at the top of her career . (Jamie Spears had previously resigned as his daughter’s personal conservator, citing health issues while still in control of her finances. A temporary personal conservator was appointed until September 3rd.)

Late last year, Judge Penny declined to immediately remove Jamie Spears as curator of his daughter’s estate, but agreed to the singer’s request to add a trustee, Bessemer Trust, as co-curator.

Thursday’s hearing concerned the separation of powers between Jamie Spears and the Bessemer Trust. Judge Penny alleged that despite the earlier appointment of Jamie Spears as sole custodian of the estate, her later appointment to the Bessemer Trust gave power to both companies, as she had previously ruled.

Lawyers from both sides, including Ingham and Vivian L. Thoreen, an attorney for Jamie Spears, appeared remotely due to Covid-19 restrictions and the hearing was briefly marred by the remote audio issues that are familiar to many today.

The lawyers agreed to discuss budgets and fees at a later date, with Ingham casually referring to “the bigger direction this Conservatory is going”. Further hearings are planned for March 17th and April 27th.

Outside the Stanley Mosk courthouse, the attendance of a #FreeBritney rally – a staple of those hearings lately – was less than usual. In recent months, the protests have also shifted to Zoom and Twitter. But the handful of pink-clad Britney Spears supporters flanking the doors of the courtroom ahead of Thursday’s hearing offered a new justification for the increased public awareness of their cause.

“It’s like a sigh of relief,” said Dustin Strand, who wore an End Conservatorship t-shirt.

He estimated that in the past two years he had protested around a dozen such hearings in the courthouse. Now it felt like the end was getting closer. “I always felt this would work for Britney,” said the 29-year-old Strand. “But it definitely feels good when the world turns on and Britney says we’re here for you and we’re sorry.”

The 26-year-old Alandria Brown showed up for the rally in an outfit inspired by her idol: a matching velvet tube top, a mini skirt and fuzzy ponytail holders, all in pink. She hoped the judge would finish the conservatory during today’s hearing, she said.

Brown added that she hoped the brighter spotlight on the Fall could hasten the end of the conservatory, but her own social circle still didn’t take her advocacy seriously.

“Most people just laugh,” she said. “Today I came alone and people just said, ‘You’re only going to the courthouse?'”

Brown said she was undeterred. “It’s just a lot bigger than that,” she said.

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Robert Dunfee