At 12:30 p.m. Wednesday (July 22), some 50 Britney Spears fans gathered at the entrance to the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles. Card-carrying members of the #FreeBritney movement, they came out during a pandemic to protest the conservatorship that Spears, one of the century’s biggest pop stars, has been under since 2008.
It was an apt time to bring attention to the legally mandated watch over the singer’s financial and personal affairs. Stemming from a period of time during 2007 and 2008 that indicated mental health issues and culminated in a very public head-shaving and umbrella-wielding episode, Spears was put under the guardianship of her father, Jamie Spears. The rationale for a conservatorship, which varies from state to state, is that it can function as a lifesaving measure for those who cannot take care of themselves.
But the #FreeBritney supporters contend it’s actually an abuse of the legal system, and the sort of actions one would expect of criminals who exploit the elderly or the developmentally challenged. And while most of the protesters count themselves as avid fans of Spears and her music, they were also surprisingly well-researched on California’s restrictive conservatorship laws, a system of guardianship for adults that limits their ability to vote, select legal counsel, drive a vehicle, seek medical providers and treatment and more. As certified Nevada guardian Susan Hoy explains in the documentary “The Guardians,” it’s “just like stepping into that person’s shoes. You get full access into their life… legal access.”
Kevin Wu, founder of the social media page @freebritneyla, contends Spears’ conservatorship would not be in place today if money was not a consideration. “Absolutely not,” he told Variety outside the courthouse. “While I believe there could be other reasons for the arrangement, money serves as a powerful incentive to keep the conservatorship in place.”
You could say Wu was the unofficial ring master, to borrow a phrase from Spears’ album “Circus,” released amid her hospitalization in 2008, as he led the protest by reading aloud key court documents into a megaphone. Among his rallying cries: that Spears “has been stripped of her right to access council of her own choosing and to meet with her council in a private meeting.”
Los Angeles-based attorney Lisa MacCarley echoed Wu, declaring to the crowd, “I’m speaking out against this conservatorship because it symbolizes what is going wrong, on so many levels, in other conservatorships I’ve seen. … Where does a judge get the authority to hand pick a favorite court appointed attorney? That is biased and that is not the way the probate court is supposed to work… This has caused abuse, trauma, and family separation — not just in Britney’s case.”
Spears reportedly has a net worth north of $59 million, but has not legally controlled her fortune for 12 years. That role has been assumed by her conservator and father and former co-conservator, Andrew Wallet, who resigned from his position in March 2019. The court has granted Jamie Spears to be paid around $130,000 annually by his daughter’s estate for his role as conservator, and according to court documents obtained by ET, the largest expense of Britney’s estate in 2018 was her legal and conservator fees, which, in total, equaled over $1.1 million for that year. The elder Spears recently received treatment for a ruptured colon which was cited as the cause for his daughter’s cancelation of a Las Vegas residency, as Variety reported in May 2019.
Due to the coronavirus crisis, a virtual status hearing was scheduled to be held, but when confidentiality could not be established due to uninvited participants, and battling tech issues, it was postponed to August 19.