The contentious fight over Britney Spears’ conservatorship seemed to enter a new phase after the singer’s scathing testimony in front of Los Angeles probate judge Brenda Penny in June, during which the pop star offered a harrowing account of the last 13 years of her life.
Since 2008, Spears’ life has been controlled by a conservatorship led by her once-estranged father, James “Jamie” Spears. The conservatorship has been credited by some with helping right Spears’ career after a tumultuous 2008 ended with a 5150 involuntary psychiatric hold; since then, Spears has put out hit albums, toured the world, and starred in a Las Vegas residency. But in her testimony, Spears claimed that her father and others enlisted to oversee her life and career have forced her to work ceaselessly; she even goes so far as to compare her seven-days-a-week, no-days-off schedule to sex trafficking. Spears, who also has a personal conservator, Jodi Montgomery, alleged that she was prescribed medication like lithium against her will and told she was not allowed to get married, have another child, or have her IUD removed.
Spears’ testimony seemed to confirm all the suspicions about the nature of her conservatorship raised by the pop star’s supporters in the #FreeBritney movement. The movement traces its origins back to fans Tess Barker and Barbara Gray, who launched the Britney’s Gram podcast in November 2017; it soon blossomed into a coterie of dedicated fans who often show up in support of Spears at court hearings and comb through her social media posts for any clues as to how the pop star might really be feeling.
And while their public campaign has been going on for several years now, the movement has significantly accelerated and reached a wider public consciousness in 2021 thanks to a major documentary, unsealed court documents, and Spears’ own testimony. Spears’ pop star peers, including Pink, Christina Aguilera, and Mariah Carey have all rallied behind her, while ex-boyfriend Justin Timberlake was compelled to apologize for the way he fueled tabloid treatment of her after their breakup.
Below is a breakdown of the last few tumultuous months — and what to look out for next.
Framing Britney Spears premieres on Hulu. Directed by Samantha Stark, the film offered one of the most comprehensive accounts of Spears’ career and conservatorship. It examined her fraught relationship with the media, how that played into Spears’ erratic 2008, and how her somewhat estranged father, Jamie Spears, reentered the picture that year to serve as Spears’ conservator. The film also profiled the rise of the #FreeBritney movement and put forth the argument that those who have been overseeing Spears’ career for the past 13 years may not have not always had her best interests at heart.
Following the doc’s premiere, Spears’ longtime boyfriend, Sam Asghari, criticizes Jamie Spears on Instagram, calling him “a total dick.” He also issues a statement to People saying, “I have always wanted nothing but the best for my better half, and will continue to support her following her dreams and creating the future she wants and deserves.”
A probate judge overrules Jamie Spears’ objection to an order that previously assigned the financial institution Bessemer Trust as a co-conservator of Spears’ estate. At Spears’ request, Bessemer was appointed a co-conservator in November 2020. At the February 2021 hearing, Spears’ lawyer, Samuel Ingham III, also said, “It’s no secret that my client does not want her father as co-conservator, but we recognize that removal is a separate issue.”
February 25 – March 3
Jamie Spears’ lawyer, Vivian Lee Thoreen, defends the conservatorship and Jamie in a series of interviews with CNN, NBC News, and Good Morning America. “I understand that every story wants to have a villain, but people have it so wrong here,” she said on GMA. “This is a story about a fiercely loyal, loving, and dedicated father who rescued his daughter from a life-threatening situation. People were harming her and they were exploiting her.”
Britney issues her first public statement about Framing Britney Spears on Instagram, writing, “I didn’t watch the documentary but from what I did see of it I was embarrassed by the light they put me in,” she continued. “I cried for two weeks and well…. I still cry sometimes !!!!”
At a court hearing, Spears’ attorney requests that the singer be allowed to speak about her conservatorship at her next court hearing.
The New York Times publishes a report based on previously sealed court documents that reveal Spears had been pushing back against the conservatorship more frequently and for longer than had previously been known. The documents also revealed Spears had been questioning her father’s fitness to serve as her conservator far earlier than previously reported.
Spears delivers a scathing rebuke of her conservatorship in court. Along with her claims of forced labor and abuse, Spears revealed that she did not know she could petition the court to end her conservatorship. She said she’d also been told by her court-appointed lawyer, Ingham, that she shouldn’t publicly share details of her experiences. “All I want is to own my money… and for this to end… and for my boyfriend to be able to fucking drive me in his car. And honestly…. I want to be able to sue my family,” she said.
Jamie calls for an inquiry into the claims Spears leveled during her testimony. Along with calling for the inquiry, Jamie’s attorneys filed a separate set of documents pushing back against some of Spears’ claims in her testimony, specifically regarding how much control Jamie had in the conservatorship. For instance, the filings alleged it wasn’t Jamie, but Spears’ personal conservator, Jodi Montgomery, who had been “fully in charge of Ms. Spears’ day-to-day personal care and medical treatment” since September 2019.
A judge denies Spears’ request to remove her father from her ongoing conservatorship. The decision was not made in response to Spears’ June 23rd testimony, but a November 2020 request. On the same day, Bessemer Trust announces that it will not take over Spears’ finances, citing the singer’s public criticism of the conservatorship and stating in a court filing that it had been told Spears’ involvement in the conservatorship was voluntary.
TheNew Yorker publishes more details about the conservatorship battle, including that Spears had shown some disapproval of her father’s role as early as 2008, the same year it began. The piece also states that Spears called 911 the night before her testimony to report herself as a victim of conservatorship abuse.
Spears’ longtime manager, Larry Rudolph, resigns, citing the singer’s apparent desire to retire. Rudolph briefly addressed the drama surrounding the conservatorship and distanced himself from it, saying, “I have never been a part of the conservatorship nor its operations, so I am not privy to many details.” Still, in her June 23rd testimony, Spears highlighted some of the professional pressures placed on her by her managers, including that she do a 2018 tour (Rudolph was never mentioned by name).
If Rudolph’s resignation is any indication, others involved in the Spears conservatorship could be stepping down soon as well. It’s also possible that Spears may soon officially file a petition to terminate the conservatorship.
The next court date in the saga is currently set for July 14th, with NPR reporting that the hearings will focus on Bessemer Trust’s petition to remove itself as a planned co-conservator.