Following a week of swirling social media chatter, fan speculation and critical re-evaluation surrounding the life and music career of Britney Spears, the legal battle over her personal well-being and finances continued on Thursday in a brief, staid court hearing that focused on the minutiae of estate management, legal representation and scheduling.
Despite the fanfare around the case, it was business as usual in a Los Angeles courthouse as the judge, Brenda Penny, did not order any substantial changes to the conservatorship that has overseen much of Spears’s existence since 2008.
The singer, 39, was the subject of a new documentary by The New York Times, “Framing Britney Spears,” that premiered last week and led to renewed conversation around the case. In addition to tracing the singer’s career as a child star and teenage pop sensation, the film focused on recent attempts by Spears, through a court-appointed lawyer, to have her father removed from the conservatorship — a complex legal arrangement typically used for the very ill, old or infirm — that he has helped steer for more than a decade.
Some fans, under the banner known as #FreeBritney, have sought to portray the conservatorship as an unjust means of control over the singer, who has struggled over the years with her mental health. Representatives for her father, Jamie Spears, have said that his oversight is about protecting his daughter’s life and money; for many years, the singer made no known objections to the setup.
That changed last year when Spears’s lawyer, Samuel D. Ingham III, said in a filing that the singer “strongly opposed” her father as conservator and would not perform again if Jamie Spears remained at the helm of her career. (Jamie Spears had previously stepped down as his daughter’s personal conservator, citing health problems, though he remained in control of her finances. A temporary personal conservator has been named through Sept. 3.)
Late last year, Judge Penny declined to immediately remove Jamie Spears as the conservator of his daughter’s estate, but assented to the singer’s request that a corporate fiduciary, Bessemer Trust, be added as co-conservator.
The hearing on Thursday concerned the division of power over the estate between Jamie Spears and Bessemer Trust. Judge Penny maintained that, despite Jamie Spears’s earlier appointment as sole conservator of the estate, her subsequent appointment of Bessemer Trust granted powers to both entities, as she had previously ruled.
Lawyers for both sides, including Ingham and Vivian L. Thoreen, a lawyer for Jamie Spears, appeared remotely because of Covid-19 restrictions, and the hearing was briefly affected by technological audio problems now familiar to many.
The lawyers agreed to discuss budgets and fees at a later date, with Ingham referring in passing to “the larger direction in which this conservatorship is headed.” Additional hearings are scheduled for March 17 and April 27.
Outside the Stanley Mosk Courthouse, the presence of a #FreeBritney rally — a fixture at these hearings of late — was smaller than usual; in recent months, the protests, too, have moved to Zoom and Twitter. But the handful of pink-clad Britney Spears supporters flanking the courthouse doors before Thursday’s hearing expressed a newfound vindication at the surge in public attention to their cause.
“It’s like a sigh of relief,” said Dustin Strand, who was wearing an End Conservatorship T-shirt.
He estimated he had protested outside roughly a dozen such hearings at the courthouse over the past two years. Now, it felt like the end was getting closer. “I’ve always had a feeling that this was going to work out for Britney,” Strand, 29, said. “But it definitely feels good to have the world chiming in and telling Britney that we’re here for you and we’re sorry.”
Alandria Brown, 26, showed up to the rally in a get-up inspired by her idol: a matching velvet tube top and miniskirt and fuzzy pigtail holders, all pink. She was hoping the judge would end the conservatorship during today’s hearing, she said.
Brown added that while she hoped the brighter spotlight on the case might accelerate the ending of the conservatorship, her own social circle was still not taking her advocacy seriously.
“Most of the people just laugh,” she said. “Today I came alone, and people were just kind of like, ‘You’re just going to the courthouse?’”
Brown said she was undeterred. “It’s just way bigger than that,” she said.