A Los Angeles judge has suspended Britney Spears’ father from the conservatorship that has controlled her life for 13 years, marking a major victory for the singer, who has long objected to the arrangement that has stripped her of independence.
At a courthouse hearing on Wednesday, Judge Brenda Penny ordered Jamie Spears suspended as conservator effective immediately.
“The current situation is not tenable,” Penny said at a courthouse hearing, adding that the current arrangement reflected a “toxic environment”.
A certified public accountant will take over as temporary conservator of the estate. Mathew Rosengart, Britney Spears’ attorney, has called for a hearing for full termination within 30 to 45 days, saying it is necessary for the singer’s wellbeing.
“The conservatorship can and should be wound up and terminated promptly – ideally this fall … Britney Spears deserves to have her father out of her life as a conservator, today.”
The decision comes three months after the pop star first publicly pleaded for her father to be removed, alleging that he had been abusive and saying: “He loved the control to hurt his own daughter.”
Spears was not present at Wednesday’s hearing.
Jamie Spears has aggressively fought efforts to be removed and recently requested that the conservatorship be terminated entirely – a move that Britney Spears’ lawyer said was an effort “to avoid accountability and justice”.
Vivian Thoreen, Jamie’s attorney, strongly objected to his suspension during Wednesday’s contentious hearing, in which she cast doubts on Spears’ emotional testimony to a court in June, saying: “She wasn’t cross examined. Nobody knows the veracity of those statements.” Thoreen argued that the conservatorship should be entirely terminated.
The case has sparked international outrage, and state and federal lawmakers are considering major reforms to the conservatorship system. A large, fan-led #FreeBritney movement first drew public attention to the arrangement, and has recently held huge rallies in support of the pop star.
Fans traveled from across the country to support Spears in LA on Wednesday, with protesters shutting down the street outside the courthouse for their rally.
“Today could be life-changing for Britney,” said Martino Odeh, 27, before the hearing. “Britney means the world to us, and I know if we can help her get out of this fraudulent, tragic conservatorship, it would mean the world to her.”
Mona Montgomery, a 79-year-old retired lawyer who arrived hours before the hearing was due to start, said she was glad the public was finally learning about conservatorship abuse: “This information has been kept secret for so many decades.”
Spears has strongly objected to the conservatorship for years, records have revealed, but she spoke publicly for the first time in court in June. She called the arrangement “abusive” and alleged that her father and others controlled intimate details of her personal life, including her birth control, and had forced her to work against her will.
A recent New York Times documentary also alleged that Jamie Spears had hired a security firm that was secretly surveilling his daughter’s phone, recording her conversations in her bedroom and monitoring fans who protested to end the conservatorship.
Conservatorship is a type of court-appointed guardianship intended for people who can no longer make decisions for themselves, typically older and infirm people. But critics have argued that the process can be exploited and have pointed to Spears’ case as an example of such abuse.
Spears was placed in the arrangement in 2008 while facing apparent mental health struggles amid intense paparazzi abuse and media scrutiny. The arrangement gave her father control over her finances and healthcare, even though reporting has suggested he was largely absent from her life before the conservatorship.
Rosengart said Thoreen was fighting suspension because Jamie Spears did not want to have to hand over documents or face a deposition under oath. Rosengart also addressed the surveillance allegations from the documentary: “Mr Spears and his representatives did something unfathomable, unfathomable – they eavesdropped on some of the most intimate communications of my client.”
Thoreen did not directly deny the allegations of surveillance and bugging Spears’ bedroom but rejected the “rhetoric” of the “television show”.