As an expert on conservatorships, I know the complicated truth about Britney Spears’ case

·4-min read

Britney Spears’ battle for freedom from a lengthy conservatorship is an intriguing story that’s enraptured the public, managing to unite even the likes of Ted Cruz and Elizabeth Warren. But once you put aside the Hollywood intrigue, the legal analysis of the case gets relatively straightforward.

Unfortunately, there’s not many statistics we can turn to for insight into how all this will shake out. Every conservatorship case is unique, even the ones without pop stars. No issue is handled off the rack — proceedings are exclusively haute couture.

At the same time, there are things we know that Spears’ newly appointed personal attorney Mathew Rosengart will need to prove, and we can make some relatively safe assumptions about how he’ll go about freeing Britney. I’ll try to highlight what’s remarkable and not-so-remarkable about the case, and what will likely be Spears’ next steps.

Firstly, what makes the case unique. The aforementioned Hollywood intrigue is hard to put aside, admittedly. Despite the alleged mental health and substance abuse issues that Jamie Spears has claimed made and continue to make the conservatorship necessary, Spears has survived as a generational talent. If Britney is capable of serving as a judge on America’s Got Talent, guest-starring on How I Met Your Mother, serving as spokesperson for numerous fragrance and fashion lines, touring and appearing worldwide, and releasing a platinum-selling album every few years, it’s reasonable to conclude she should be granted enough autonomy to manage her own interests.

The ease with which the public comes to this obvious conclusion is part of the reason the story has attracted so much attention. The big question is whether the probate court will find this evidence similarly compelling.

Just as the majority of us likely won’t achieve Spears’ fame and fortune, most of us won’t be in a position where every aspect of our life will be managed for us, conservatorship or not. Cher isn’t calculating her taxes, and Madonna’s not calling up AT&T to dispute overbilling. Unlike the vast majority of other conservatorships, when you have someone of Spears’ stature this really is purely a matter of whether she has a say in who she’s delegating responsibility to rather than whether she’s able to balance her checkbook.

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The medical facts of the case are more straightforward: if the experts opine that Britney is of sound enough mind to manage her own affairs, she very likely will be released from the conservatorship.

Understandably emotional in her explosive June 23 testimony, Spears took issue with what she perceived as an apathetic response to what she described as abuse she’s allegedly suffered at her father’s hands. But by all objective accounts, the Honorable Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny is a very experienced probate practitioner, as well as an empathic and seasoned judge whose long history specifically with the probate court shows that she works very hard to get things right. If the medical opinion is in Spears’ favor, it very likely will have the impact she’s looking for.

But at least one difficulty Spears will face is demonstrating she’s capable of not falling susceptible to the maligned forces that necessitated a conservatorship in the first place. Sam Lutfi, Spears’ former manager who many have reported not only contributed to Spears’ mental crisis but sought to benefit from it, has resurfaced in several rehabilitative news stories this week commenting on how he “failed Britney” and positioning himself as a member of the #FreeBritney movement. Does Lutfi think he can win his way back into Spears’ circle of influence? Can the court be confident he wouldn’t succeed?

Mathew Rosengart, Britney’s new attorney, undoubtedly will procure evidence that shows Spears has grown more wise, skeptical and resistant to forces like Lutfi. Separately, he very likely will be lining up a team for Spears that will be there to help protect her from exploitation and obviate the need for a conservatorship. Rosengart, a former federal prosecutor, is skilled and savvy, and with a wealth of resources and knowledge at his disposal he is more than capable.

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In a hearing over Zoom on Wednesday, Spears further testified that she’d like to charge her father with conservatorship abuse, and that she’d like him to be subjected to an investigation. It’s not immediately clear whether Spears’ statements were made in lockstep with Rosengart, though there’s no question why it’s an issue she’d be passionate about. Her plight — coupled with, of all things, the 2020 American comedy thriller I Care A Lot — have made conservatorship abuse a hot topic that has the attention of the probate community nationwide.

Spears would have the burden of proving her father breached the fiduciary duties he owed to her as conservator, or that he committed other wrongs against her. The facts underlying those claims would certainly seem destined to serve her effort to be freed. Whether she would still want to pursue those claims against her father once the conservatorship is terminated would depend on the likelihood of success of those claims separately.

In short, Spears has a lot to gain, with little to lose. A solid step forward for #FreeBritney.

Scott E. Rahn is a probate, trust and conservatorship attorney, as well as a managing partner at RMO LLP

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