The change in counsel indicates that the elder Spears is readying for a fight leading up to the pop star’s next hearing on Nov. 12, which is when the 13-year conservatorship is expected to be terminated.
In a statement sent to Variety on Thursday, the attorney who has been representing Spears throughout the conservatorship said that her firm is no longer working with him.
“We are proud of our work on behalf of Jamie Spears and stand by his and our actions,” stated Vivian L. Thoreen of Holland & Knight LLP. “We continue to have a good relationship, and are pleased that we have been able to help Jamie find new counsel. I am confident that Jamie’s new counsel will continue to prove that he has always acted in Britney’s best interests every step of the way.”
According to court docs filed this week and obtained by Variety, Spears has retained high-powered entertainment and business litigator Alex Weingarten, a partner at Willkie Farr & Gallagher. (Weingarten did not immediately respond to Variety‘s request for comment on this story.)
The change in counsel is a telling move for Spears’ father, as he enters the next — and, for him, likely unexpected — phase of the conservatorship saga, which has seen him supervising his daughter’s estate in his role of conservator since 2008. But now, he is suddenly on the outs, as Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny suspended him last month.
The specialty of Spears’ former attorney, Thoreen, was based in trusts, estates, conservatorship and guardianship matters. In contrast, Weingarten’s focus is in entertainment and business litigation.
Judge Penny’s decision to suspend the elder Spears on Sept. 29 came after the singer testified twice this past summer with bombshell accusations of conservatorship abuse, and days after after the New York Times exposed allegations that Spears had been running a surveillance operation that allegedly had him bugging his adult daughter’s home and tracking her phone so he could eavesdrop on her without her consent.
The star’s lawyer, veteran Hollywood attorney Mathew Rosengart, who has represented the likes of Sean Penn and Steven Spielberg, has repeatedly accused Spears’ father of financial mismanagement and conservatorship abuse and has pledged to investigate him and depose him under oath. At the September hearing when Judge Penny ruled the situation was “untenable,” Rosengart called Spears a “cruel, toxic, abusive man,” and said that it was long past time to remove him.
Jamie Spears has continuously denied all allegations of wrongdoing throughout his daughter’s legal battle.
At the September hearing, Thoreen was fighting to terminate the conservatorship, arguing that suspending her then-client did not make sense for the timeline. Judge Penny ruled otherwise, but had Spears’ father been able to terminate rather than being suspended, he would have effectively been absolved of any potential wrongdoing. Now, with the court-ordered suspension, Jamie Spears is obligated, under the law, to turn over his files to Spears’ new, short-term conservators. (Accountant John Zabel has assumed temporarily control of the estate until next steps are determined.)
Rosengart, a former federal prosecutor, said outside the courthouse in September that he expects law enforcement to take a “hard look” into Spears, though he declined to respond to questions regarding whether Spears’ alleged behavior would rise to the level of criminal conduct. However, Rosengart stated he believes the attorney-client communications between Spears and his now-former lawyers “will reveal corruption,” which his firm will be “vigorously looking into.”
At the Sept. 29 hearing, for which Variety was in attendance, Thoreen seemed to be at a loss for words as her client was suspended from the conservatorship.
As for Spears’ father, insiders say he was angry with his lawyers, having been suspended and now potentially on the hook for hefty legal fees.
Just a matter of months ago, things looked very different for the elder Spears, whose role in his daughter’s legal arrangement has been continuously diminishing, ever since the tides began to turn when she broke her silence and publicly addressed the court with blistering testimony this past June.
The day after his suspension, Jamie Spears said the court was wrong in its decision, stating that he loves his daughter unconditionally. “For anyone who has tried to help a family member dealing with mental health issues, they can appreciate the tremendous amount of daily worry and work this required,” his attorney’s statement said last month. “For Mr. Spears, this also meant biting his tongue and not responding to all the false, speculative, and unsubstantiated attacks on him by certain members of the public, media, or more recently, Britney’s own attorney.”