Britney Spears has been permitted to choose a new attorney in her ongoing battle to end her conservatorship, marking the first time the pop star has had a say in her own legal representation since the arrangement was formed in 2008.
Spears’ court-appointed lawyer, Samuel Ingham, had already formally requested to step down in a court filing, but the decision required approval from a California judge. It represents a huge win for the push to end Spears’ conservatorship, which has attracted attention from the entertainment industry to Capitol Hill and beyond.
An emotional Spears attended the hearing remotely. At times, she sobbed. She said she wanted to press charges against her father for his role in the conservatorship, telling Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny, “If this is not abuse, I don’t know what is,” according to CNN.
“This conservatorship has allowed my dad to ruin my life,” Spears told the judge, NBC News reported.
She said of her conservators: “I thought they were trying to kill me.”
“Their goal was to make me feel crazy, and I’m not. And that’s not OK,” Spears said, adding that what made her feel “crazy” was her perception that her family “never, ever cared for me.”
The pop star also credited her fans with giving her the strength to stand up for herself.
Outside the courtroom, a large crowd of supporters gathered to champion Spears’ cause. Some held signs ― “The world is [watching]” and “Free Britney bitch” among them ― and others held microphones in front of a bright pink-and-white backdrop bearing the slogan “Free Britney.” Between rallying cries demanding an end to the conservatorship, fans performed covers of some of Spears’ most popular tracks.
Judge Penny’s ruling comes three weeks after the singer spoke out at length against the legal arrangement that controls her life during a hearing last month. Spears said she wished to dissolve the conservatorship ― which hands control of her personal finances and health care choices to others, as approved by the court system ― alleging that she felt trapped, had been forced to perform when she did not want to, and was not allowed to make personal health care decisions.
“I deserve to have a life,” she said at the time.
On Wednesday, according to multiple outlets, Penny accepted Ingham’s resignation and approved Spears’ choice of attorney: Hollywood lawyer Mathew Rosengart, a former federal prosecutor currently working with the top-tier law firm Greenberg Traurig who has represented other celebrities in the past. Rosengart was spotted at the courtroom hearing, where he was expected to begin the formal process of taking over as her legal counsel.
Lawyers for her father, Jamie Spears, did not object to allowing Rosengart to represent Britney.
In Spears’ case, her father has served as co-conservator of her estate for the past 13 years. The arrangement was originally made after Spears suffered a series of debilitating mental health episodes scrutinized by the paparazzi that aggressively followed her every move.
The singer declared at her last hearing that the conservatorship was “abusive” ― the first time she had ever spoken publicly about it ― and that her father “loved the control, to hurt his own daughter, one hundred thousand percent.”
She detailed several shocking examples of personal freedoms that had been curtailed by the arrangement as, she argued, she went about the work of providing for the very people who told her what she could and could not do.
Spears added to her forced labor allegation on Wednesday, reportedly telling Judge Penny that she was promised the conservatorship would be lifted if she completed her Circus tour. That was in 2009.
Rosengart called on Jaime Spears to resign from the conservatorship voluntarily as he spoke with reporters outside the courthouse.
“The question remains: Why is he involved?” Rosengart said, pledging to take “a top to bottom look at what’s happened over the past decade.”
An attorney for Jamie Spears said he was “hurt” and “troubled” by his daughter’s accusations after previously calling for an investigation into her claims.
Rosengart noted that he would be consulting with his client regarding one topic of the hearing that was left unresolved: whether Spears should be made to pay for beefed-up security measures for one of her conservators, Jodi Montgomery, who said she has been receiving scores of death threats over her part in the case.
On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union got involved, filing a petition arguing for Spears’ right to choose her own attorney. Her mother, Lynne Spears, filed a petition in the week before the new hearing attesting to Spears’ mental health.
“Now, and for the past many years, Conservatee is able to care for her person and in fact has, inside of the parameters of this conservatorship, earned literally hundreds of millions of dollars as an international celebrity,” Lynne Spears said in the filing.
In the fallout from the singer’s remarks last month, Bessemer Trust, a wealth management firm that had been expected to join the conservatorship, asked the California judge to step away from the case, citing Spears’ opposition to the whole arrangement. Judge Penny accepted the resignation on Wednesday.
Spears’ longtime manager, Larry Rudolph, also resigned earlier this month; he said that the pop star had expressed her intention to retire.