“As Mr. Spears has said again and again, all he wants is what is best for his daughter,” Tuesday’s filing stated when Jamie asked a judge to terminate the conservatorship. “If Ms. Spears wants to terminate the conservatorship and believes that she can handle her own life, Mr. Spears believes that she should get that chance.”
Despite stating his unconditional love for his daughter, legal experts and a source close to the pop star tell Variety that the singer’s best interest was not the reason for Jamie’s sudden request to end the conservatorship, but rather, a face-saving legal tactic to protect himself, as he saw the writing on the wall.
Spears’ father came the realization that he has dug himself deep into a hole and there would be no winning for him — both in the court of public perception, and possibly in the court of law. Additionally, he was concerned he’d be stuck with millions of dollars of attorneys fees, following an Aug. 30 filing from Britney’s attorney, Mathew Rosengart, which accused him of extorting $2 million, in exchange to step down from the conservatorship.
“It’s so self serving,” an attorney, who has decades of experiences working in conservatorships, tells Variety of Spears’ father suddenly deciding to terminate the conservatorship. “This is a legal position to take the focus off of them. This is brilliant lawyering, but it’s kind of bullshit.”
Jamie’s attorney, Vivian Thoreen, did not respond to numerous requests for comment from Variety.
Rosengart was unavailable for comment on this story. However, earlier this week, the singer’s attorney issued a statement to the press, calling the petition a “massive legal victory” for his A-list client, while pledging that his firm will continue with their investigation of Spears’ father’s “misconduct,” “financial mismanagement” and “improper plan to hold his daughter hostage by trying to extract a multi-million dollar settlement.”
In the Aug. 30 filing that claimed Spears’ father was trying to extort millions from his daughter, Rosengart wrote that Jamie — not Britney’s estate — would be “liable for his attorneys’ fees.”
Those fees include $1,356,293 in legal costs, PR consultation on “major television and news articles, social media posts, global media inquiries, and documentary films,” plus $541,065.50 for “media matters,” per court documents.
“Mr. Spears and his counsel are now on notice,” Rosengart’s filing stated. “Britney Spears will not be extorted.”
Legal experts explain a likely scenario is that Spears’ father was nervous about Rosengart’s threat and wanted to avoid any hefty fees falling back on him, given that all costs associated with the conservatorship were all under his approval, in his role as conservator of his daughter’s estate.
“What this means to me is that they didn’t know where to hide after Rosengart filed, and he’s concerned about them going after him and being personally stuck with some of these fees,” says Sarah Wentz, a partner at Fox Rothschild LLP, who specializes in conservatorships and estates, but is not affiliated with the case.
As recently as last month, Jamie fiercely stood behind his position that his daughter needed the conservatorship. In August, his attorney filed a legal document alleging his daughter was “mentally sick” and might need a psychiatric hold. A few weeks later, he agreed to work with the court on eventually stepping down as Britney’s conservator, but still said the conservatorship was still necessary.
With a close read of Tuesday’s petition to terminate, Jamie and his lawyers did not once state their position on the conservatorship ending. Instead, they point the finger at the court, asking Judge Brenda Penny to terminate, solely based on the singer’s own testimony and the court allowing her to hire her own attorney. Jamie’s legal team suggests that if the court deemed his daughter is capable of hiring her own lawyer, the court may very well determine she has the capacities to run the rest of her life, too, without a conservatorship.
“They are very carefully side stepping the issue of whether or not they think it’s appropriate to terminate,” says Wentz. “They’re putting this squarely on the court’s lap — if she’s successful, great; if this fails, the people who look bad are the conservator of the person and the court.”
In other words, Jamie and his attorneys are throwing the mess into the court’s hands, after months of villainization on social media and from Spears’ rabid army of fans of the #FreeBritney movement, as the highly-publicized case has created an explosion of public interest.
“They’re saying, ‘Alright let’s try to flip this on its head because if she wants this to end so badly, we look better asking for termination in the eyes of the world, which will bolster our claim that we’ve done nothing except what’s in her best interest,” Wentz explains.
Family law attorney and former clinical psychologist David Glass says that Spears’ father was in a “no-win situation.” Glass believes that the elder Spears’ tactic to ask the court to terminate was a smart move — well, for himself — to “get him out, while putting the pressure on everyone else for a change.”
In Tuesday’s filing, Jamie said that the 13-year conservatorship has helped his daughter’s life, career and finances. But then, he said, recently, things have changed.
“Ms. Spears is now outspoken in her frustration with the level of control imposed by a conservatorship, and has pleaded with this Court to ‘let her have her life back,’” Jamie’s attorney, Thoreen, wrote in this week’s legal doc. “If Ms. Spears wants to terminate the conservatorship and believes that she can handle her own life, Mr. Spears believes that she should get that chance.”
The petition is a far cry from Jamie’s filing on Aug. 6 when he said his daughter might be mentally ill, and viciously attacked her legal team.
“Petitioning to end the conservatorship goes against everything in the that filing,” Wentz says. “If he genuinely thinks that now is the appropriate time to terminate, then the facts in the August filing couldn’t have possibly been true.”
Another factor in Jamie’s many moves this summer? Britney’s change in her legal team. Since the start of her conservatorship in 2008, the singer had been represented by Samuel Ingham III, a court-appointed attorney that she had no say in choosing when placed under conservatorship. But when she was granted the ability to hire her own attorney in Rosengart this July and Ingham stepped down, things began to swiftly take shape for the star with more movement than had occurred in over 13 years.
Within a matter of weeks, Britney’s new lawyer accused her father of “dissipating” her multi-million dollar fortune and formally asked the court to suspend and remove him from the conservatorship. After more than a decade of working with a court-appointed attorney, legal experts say that Jamie’s team was in over their head going up against a powerhouse lawyer who had represented the likes of Sean Penn and Steven Spielberg. (Experts also say that the Princess of Pop was very savvy to choose a litigator in Rosengart, opposed to an estates’ specialist, indicating that she was ready for a fight.)
Ever since her first public testimony this June, Britney has urged Judge Penny to release her from her conservatorship without evaluation, and has pleaded to “press charges” against her father for “conservatorship abuse.” The superstar has claimed that her conservators had an iron fist over her life, not letting her drive in a car with her boyfriend, dictating what she could eat and drink, not letting her go on vacation with her hard-earned money and not allowing her to get married and have a baby, by preventing her from removing her IUD birth control device.
While being released without evaluation is highly unlikely, the singer’s path to freedom could be much sooner than recently imaginable.
If Jamie had continued to oppose terminating the conservatorship, a lengthy trial could have ensued, bringing the singer and countless witnesses to the stand. Britney’s personal conservator, Jodi Montgomery, had previously told the judge that she did not believe deposing the pop star would be in her best interest, given the invasion of privacy and emotional turmoil of the process.
But now that her father is throwing his hands up, the court can move as quickly as it would like. Experts say it’s possible the court could terminate the conservatorship at the next hearing, scheduled for the end of next month.
“If the judge does not require mental health expert testimony, this could end on Sept. 29. That would be a relatively liberal and somewhat risky move by the court, but at this point in the case, anything is possible,” Glass says. “If not on Sept. 29, then certainly by the end of this calendar year.”
Wentz agrees that the court could let the singer out of her conservatorship, if they feel they’ve evaluated her enough, perhaps with a court visitor over the next few weeks, leading up to the hearing. But the attorney cautions that the court could implicate itself if it moves too fast. “If the court kept her in this for 13 years and then let her out in the matter of three weeks, that will be heavily scrutinized,” she says.
“I think the court is going to feel an immense amount of pressure because Jamie just flipped it 100% on the court to ask them to determine whether she can manage her own affairs at this point,” Wentz adds. “If they let her out of this and it was too soon, and didn’t take their time to make sure she was really ready for this, it’s now on them.”
One holdup with the conservatorship has been the conservators not being able to see eye-to-eye. Earlier this summer, one attorney described the case to the judge as “lawyers gone wild.” With her father attacking Montgomery, the best interest of the conservatee — Britney Spears — has unfortunately been largely left out of the courtroom.
“Ordinarily, the conservatee’s team will focus on his or her return to capacity — taking care of the physical or mental illness symptoms and proving that they are capable of making personal and financial decisions for themselves,” says Glass. “I’m not sure that Britney’s attorneys could focus on that or were being allowed to focus on that issue, so instead, they turned the tables and put the pressure on Jamie. It kept the question of ‘Is Britney OK?’ out of the news.”
At this point, the singer’s legal team has not asked for the conservatorship to be terminated. Thus far, Rosengart has only filed to have her father removed, but has never addressed ending the conservatorship.
Rosengart did not respond to Variety‘s request for comment regarding whether he plans to formally ask the court to terminate the conservatorship.
“What I hope is not lost in this is that Britney’s camp was taking a reasonable position of changing her conservator and making sure she had the time to get on her feet and take the time she needed to get out in the world on her own,” Wentz says. “If the two sides were working together and both looking out for her best interest, why force this issue faster than is best? To just terminate this faster than might be appropriate, begs the question: Is her father really working in her best interest?”