On June 23, during a court hearing in Los Angeles requested last April, American singer Britney Spears spoke for the first time publicly and in detail about the protection condition to which she has been subjected since 2008 and which prevents her from controlling her assets and many other aspects of her personal life, mainly managed by her father Jamie and other people and companies involved in the story. The phone call with the judge, which lasted 23 minutes, was also broadcast at Spears’ request outside the court, where groups of people who have long supported the singer in the dispute that arose with her family in relation to this complex and controversial protection, in a movement that is identified with the hashtag #FreeBritney, were gathered.
“I only want my life back,” Spears said, among other things, denouncing that she has suffered numerous forms of abuse in recent years, including being forced to work and taking medication against her will. His testimony has been taken up by many sites around the world, some of which have insinuated several doubts also with respect to the ability of Spears’ lawyer, Samuel Ingham, to adequately represent the interests of his client.
“I didn’t know I could ask for the end of protection,” Spears added, apologizing for his “ignorance” and explicitly stating that he wanted to hire a trusted lawyer. Ingham, who was assigned to her of her own motion in 2008 after a judge deemed her unable to hire her own representative, has recently filed for her resignation from office. Lynne Spears, Britney’s mother, filed a request to the court to “hear her daughter’s wishes” by allowing Britney to hire “her private counsel” or, alternatively, to appoint one chosen by Britney.
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Britney Spears, who was in the two thousand years the most popular young pop singer and for a long time among the highest paid in the world, is 39 years old. She has two children, Sean Preston and Jayden James, born in 2005 and 2006 from a relationship with her ex-husband Kevin Federline.
A long and in-depth article of the New Yorker, written by Ronan Farrow and Jia Tolentino, retraced many problematic and partly unknown passages in Spears’ history that first determined and then maintained the current conservatorship, the legal instrument usually applied in the United States in cases of people who cannot take care of themselves, due to seniority or mental disability, and whose decision-making power is handed over to others.
Since 2008, the year in which the protection was established, Spears has released four records, toured the world – from which he grossed 131 million dollars – and has held fixed shows for four years (the so-called residency show) in Las Vegas, like many singers at the end of their careers. His guardians, including his father Jamie, have been checking his expenses, communications, and personal decisions all this time. In 2019, following some health problems from which he almost died, Jamie resigned from the role of guardian regarding his daughter’s personal choices, remaining guardian of the estate. The legal administrator Jodi Montgomery took over the personal affairs.
Currently a group of ten responsible for managing Spears’ legal and commercial affairs, public relations and social media – a group that has very sporadic relationships with her, writes the New Yorker – meets once a week to evaluate merchandising agreements and requests for rights of use of the songs. Through the CrowdSurf platform, Spears’ posts are supervised by social media managers prior to publication, to verify that there are no references to protection or other legal issues.
The evening before the hearing on 23 June, he wrote on New Yorker Citing a source close to Spears and another in law enforcement in Ventura County, California, Spears phoned emergency number 911 to report an “abuse of guardianship.” But the county, citing an “ongoing investigation,” did not give access to the call logs, although in California this type of phone call is generally in the public domain. The hypothesis suggested by the New Yorker is that Spears’ entourage, fearing that she might say something unseemly during the hearing, attempted to influence her.
During the hearing Spears said that his father, anyone involved in this conservatorship and also the members of his entourage “should be in jail”. She then described herself as an isolated, financially exploited and emotionally abused person, and also blamed California’s legal system, in her opinion co-responsible for what happened to her. “All I want is to own my money, for all of this to end,” Spears said.
People close to the Spears family told the New Yorker that protection was requested by them and obtained because of real concerns about Britney’s mental health. And there were also concerns about a possible illicit management of the assets, considering that that alleged psychic fragility of Spears had not distanced from her – but rather attracted even more – an extensive following of managers, agents, producers, lawyers and other interested people.
Jacqueline Butcher, a former family friend who was present in court and was instrumental in the institution of the guardianship, said she regretted the testimony given on that occasion. “I thought we were helping her, but no, I helped a corrupt family get all this control,” Butcher told the New Yorker.
The Spears family
Britney Spears’ father, Jamie, is 68 years old and a past marked by severe family trauma. When he was thirteen, his mother committed suicide at the grave of one of his sons, who died eight years earlier three days after birth. Lynne, Britney’s mother, is 66 years old and grew up with Jamie, in the small town of Kentwood, Louisiana. “I have mixed feelings about everything, I don’t know what to think… there is a lot of pain, a lot of worry,” Lynne told the New Yorker.
Lynne and Jamie were married from 1976 to 2002, although his infidelity and other alcoholism problems had led both of them to file for divorce – then withdrawn – as early as 1980, a year before the birth of Britney, the second of their three children. Britney signed a contract to record six records with Jive Records when she was just 16 years old, thanks in part to the work of an enterprising lawyer, Larry Rudolph, who became her manager. Shortly after, in 1998, the video for her debut single “Baby one more time” “exploded into American pop culture like fireworks on July 4,” recalls the New Yorker.
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In 2002, when Lynne and Jamie Spears divorced, Britney – who had remained very close to her mother, and two years earlier had bought her a $4.5 million property in Kentwood – said it had been “the best thing that has ever happened to my family”. Spears’ well-known and recounted relationship with singer Justin Timberlake had just ended, and this event, according to people close to her, destabilized her a lot. “His status as half of a golden couple had become an integral part of his identity, and after the separation his sex life became a regular topic of news,” writes the New Yorker.
“The paparazzi were out of control, arguing over the shots, pushing each other. It was overwhelming and scary,” recalled the wealthy American heiress Paris Hilton, with whom Spears, along with singer and actress Lindsay Lohan, began to date more and more often. They formed the “holy trinity in the culture of tabloids, at its peak in the early two thousand years”, recalls the New Yorker, which relates a time when, while Spears was at his hairdresser Kim Vo, a paparazzo climbed a wall and broke a salon window with a fist.
“She had little collapses, she was always crying, saying ‘I want to be normal,'” said one of her first makeup artists, recalling the “crazy” work programs Spears was subjected to, including dance rehearsals, studio recording sessions, photo shoots and stadium concerts. At that time, writes the New Yorker, Spears used marijuana and cocaine. She had been so “protected” until that moment, according to a person close to that tour, that Paris Hilton had to show her how to use Google.
Marriage to Federline
Spears and dancer and rapper Kevin Federline met at a nightclub in the spring of 2004, and six months later they married, but without Spears having thought of a premarital deal. This delayed the legal marriage. « Lynne [la madre di Spears] she freaked out,” recalls Butcher, the family friend. The marriage contract was signed three weeks after the ceremony, when Federline agreed to limit her participation in Spears’ estate. And ten months later, the couple’s first child, Sean Preston, was born. The paparazzi continued to follow Spears whenever he left the house, even when he took his son with him.
In September 2006, her second child, Jayden James, was born, and in November Spears filed for divorce. “Give me my kids, bullshit!”, wrote Federline on the bathroom wall of a night club in Las Vegas, during a party with friends. He asked for full custody of the children: Preston was just over a year old, Jayden was not yet weaned. Between Spears and Federline, who lived apart and shared parental duties pending the divorce decree, it was Spears who became the “target of the violent sport of the tabloids”, recalls the New Yorker. In February 2007, he shaved his head completely and a few days later attacked a paparazzo’s car with an umbrella, facts that consolidated in the tabloid narrative the idea that Spears was a “madman”.
Several people close to her during the early years of her career consider the idea that she suffered from postpartum depression likely, says the New Yorker, and they do not remember that he ever received specific treatment or aid. Instead, they remember his difficulties with drugs and alcohol. In early 2007, Spears was also admitted to a rehabilitation clinic in Antigua for a single day. The judge at the custody hearing entrusted the children to Federline, giving Spears four days of visit a week in the presence of a court-appointed overseer, Robin Johnson.
The meeting with Lutfi
Meanwhile, Spears, who had broken off his working relationship with manager Larry Rudolph, met Sam Lutfi, a Hollywood agent with a certain reputation as a wielding man in search of female celebrities with turbulent lives, and began to entrust him with his professional and private affairs. per New Yorker Lutfi, who is now 46 years old, said he had taken a different approach to Spears than her previous collaborators, and explained to her that it was not written anywhere that she had to work so hard. Lutfi says:
[Spears] she had always thought that there would be enormous consequences if she did not work, that she would lose a great deal, and she was stunned that she could make the decisions. Do you want to cancel that meeting? Delete it. Will you lose 5 thousand dollars? Lose them. If entering a dealership he had said that he wanted something, I would have said “buy it”, while his parents would have said “why do you allow him?”. But it’s an 80 thousand dollar car, not a yacht, and she just got 15 million from Estée Lauder. And by the way, she’s an adult. I won’t tell her she can’t buy herself a fucking yacht.
Lutfi has in the past been called a “street cheaster” by another of his famous former clients, Courtney Love, actress and singer of the musical group Hole. He is currently under a five-year restraining order filed against him in 2019 by an attorney on Spears’ behalf.
Spears’ first acquaintances with photographer Adnan Ghalib, with whom he had an affair, also date back to the time of his meeting with Lutfi. Ghalib belonged to the round of paparazzi that Lutfi suggested to Spears not to reject and indeed to host at home sometimes, to favor less aggressive relationships with that type of press. Of both Ghalib and Lutfi, writes the New Yorker, it has been said in the past that they supplied drugs to Spears, accusations that Lutfi has always rejected.
Spears’ father, Jamie, had meanwhile made contact with another manager, Lou Taylor, wife of a pastor of an evangelical church and with whom the Spears shared the Christian faith. According to sources present at the time and cited by the New Yorker, Taylor attempted to get in touch with Britney Spears, without succeeding. Lindsay Lohan’s father later recounted that Taylor was the manager who suggested to the Lohans the possibility of putting their daughter Lindsay under guardianship. Through his lawyer, Taylor denied the New Yorker of “ever having made any effort to put someone under guardianship.”
In January 2008, at the end of one of the days she could be with her two sons Preston and Jayden, Spears began crying and refused to let them go with spears’ bodyguard who had arrived at Spears’ house to bring them back to Federline’s house. Eventually, in violation of the custody agreement, Spears let Preston go but locked himself in the bathroom with Jayden, refusing to go out. In a short time, police and firefighters arrived, according to Lutfi called by Federline’s lawyer. Upon his arrival at Spears’ home, Lutfi found four helicopters flying over the property, numerous crews of journalists outside, and policemen and firefighters inside the house, ready with axes to knock down the bathroom door.
“It looked like the scene of a murder,” said Lutfi, who made his way through everyone, walked into the bathroom — “it was ridiculous, the lock on that door didn’t even work” — and found Spears in an evening dress cradling his son walking back and forth. “I told her she had to let Jayden go, and as she was about to deliver the baby to me, the firefighters precipitated things. They took the baby from her, brought a stretcher and tied her up. He was just looking at me», said Lutfi, to whom they explained that it was a “5150 stop”, a type of emergency psychiatric detention in some ways similar to the Mandatory Health Treatment applied in Italy. The paparazzi surrounded spears’ ambulance and followed her to Cedars-Sinai Hospital in West Hollywood, where she was admitted.
Federline obtained immediate sole custody of the children, and Spears’ right to see them was suspended. The media circulated the opinion that Spears had endangered her children but the people then close to her, including the housekeeper, told the New Yorker of how caring and eager she was to spend more time with her children, and that “she would never do anything that would put them in danger.” “None of this was his fault,” said Robin Johnson, the court-appointed overseer. “There were so many people involved in her life, people who caused all this madness, and I have no word of contempt for her… It was probably one of the saddest cases I’ve ever followed,” Johnson added.
After that incident, Jamie and manager Lou Taylor consulted lawyers to see if there was room for protection – the conservatorship – for Spears. Under U.S. law, the conservatorship it can be willing – in full or limited form – to take control of the finances and, if necessary, also of the daily life – including health care – of a person with physical and mental limitations due to seniority, illness or other reasons.
Spears’ parents, Jamie and Lynne, feared that Lutfi and the other people around her daughter might steal money from her, or encourage her to make impulsive and dangerous decisions for her finances. The same impression was confirmed at the New Yorker by other people close to Spears at the time, including photographer Andrew Gallery, who worked with her in 2008. The protection seemed at that point “a pipe dream, with Sam [Lutfi] so present and rooted in his life,” wrote Spears’ mother, Lynne, in an autobiography released in 2008.
Following an argument with Lutfi, Spears reconnected in part with some members of his family, after having kept them at a distance for years. And she did so thanks also to the intercession of Jacqueline Butcher, the friend who today regrets having provided that kind of support. Butcher shared the idea of trying to remove Spears from Lutfi’s influence, and recounts that one evening Lynne, Ghalib and Lutfi found themselves at Spears’ house and argued violently accusing each other of conditioning her. In the end, land he yelled at everyone to shut up.
Two days later, on January 31, 2008, Lynne recounts in her autobiography, Lutfi called Lynne to warn her that ” someone was coming to try to lock Britney up again”. Lutfi states that this second 5150 was independently requested by Spears’ doctor, while others state that it was Lutfi who told the doctor something that caused him to request treatment a second time. At the time of the police arrival, in the house were Butcher, Lynne, Lutfi and Spears, who tried to cooperate, crying and shaking while being tied to the stretcher, Butcher said. She was transported to the psychiatric ward of Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles after being loaded into an ambulance and escorted along the way “by a police convoy as long as a football field,” writes the New Yorker.
During the five days spears remained hospitalized, Jamie’s lawyer – Geraldine Wyle – enlisted the collaboration of Butcher, the family friend, to produce an account of the events that had led to Spears’ emergency call and hospitalization in the previous days. That report was filed in los angeles court, and Judge Reva Goetz, now retired, ordered provisional protection. “I didn’t know how a guardianship worked, it should have been a temporary thing,” Butcher said, adding that at the time she still felt relieved and convinced that she had helped Spears.
California’s law on conservatorship provides that the protected receives five days’ notice before the start of protection, unless there is a risk found by the court that the notice will cause “immediate and substantial damage”. Goetz appointed Sam Ingham, an expert in hereditary law, as Spears’ ex officio lawyer, and agreed to the guardians’ request to waive the right to inform the guardian.
Guardianship duties were shared between Spears’ father, Jamie, and a court-appointed attorney, Andrew Wallet. On the request for protection completed by Jamie, the lawyer Wyle or others who worked with them at the time and presented in court, a box had been barred to indicate the state of dementia of the protected or protected. Fundamental to the decision taken by the court, writes the New Yorker, were the accusations – some of them unfounded – against Lutfi and the rest of Britney’s entourage, according to the Spears responsible for having deceived her and administering drugs to her without her knowledge.
Three different psychiatrists were called upon to provide a statement attesting to Spears’ lack of “mental fitness”, and only the third, James Spar, provided it. “I don’t know why Britney Spears still has protection,” Spar himself recently said in a podcast quoted by the New Yorker. Spears tried to be represented by his lawyer, Jon Eardley, instead of Ingham, but based on Spar’s testimony and a report by Ingham herself, she was not recognized as having the “ability” to hire a lawyer. Eardley stated that Spears had been denied a fair trial.
According to Jonathan Martinis, a legal expert at a center for the rights of the disabled at Syracuse University, in the state of New York, these types of protections provided by U.S. laws are very dangerous insofar as they prevent people from obtaining a defense. “They could have found Britney with an axe and a severed head, while saying ‘it was me’, and she would still have been entitled to a lawyer. So, under guardianship, you don’t have the same rights as a murderer,” Martinis told the New Yorker.
Jamie called Larry Rudolph to be his daughter’s music manager and commissioned Lou Taylor, the pastor’s manager wife, to run the other businesses. Butcher, who continued to date the Spears family at the time, said Jamie was very authoritarian and aggressive with Spears. “She yelled in her face that she was a whore and a horrible mother,” she said, recalling that Spears was told that she could only see her children again if she cooperated with her guardians.
Spears eventually began to see the children again, with several limitations, while Jamie got rid of anyone who had previously worked with his daughter, including the housekeeper. Spears also returned to the studio to record a new album, Circus, and started a new tour, with mandatory drug testing for all dancers involved. The protection, which was supposed to end on December 31, was then made permanentnte in a new hearing, in October 2008.
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A sister of Lutfi told the New Yorker Who in January 2009 learned that Spears wanted to have a cell phone and joined her at a gym in Beverly Hills, where Spears and his mother were training together. Secretly from the bodyguards, he managed to approach her in the locker room, showed up and handed her a phone with a prepaid card, which Spears immediately ran to hide in the locker. Butcher learned about it from Lutfi himself but decided not to say anything to the Spears family for fear of the abuse Britney would suffer and because he did not consider it inconvenient that he tried to have his own lawyer.
Warned by a housekeeper who had heard Spears talk secretly on the phone, Jamie ordered her phone confiscated. Since that time, Butcher told the New Yorker, the relationship between her and Spears was also interrupted, at the behest of Jamie, who according to Butcher probably suspected that she knew about the phone. Later, Jamie also obtained a restraining order against former manager Lutfi, Spears’ ex-boyfriend Ghalib, and attorney Eardley, all accused of conspiring to gain control over Spears’ assets.
the New Yorker he contacted Jordan Miller, the owner of a popular Britney Spears fan site, BreatheHeavy, who in 2009 came under pressure from the Spears family to stop a campaign started to raise awareness of Spears’ situation. Miller said he began writing on the site posts like «Free Britney!», after reading about the history of the confiscated mobile phone. And he said he began to do so amid the many objections of other fans who instead considered Spears’ return to his home family a positive turn for his career.
A few months later, Miller told the New Yorker, he was contacted by phone and threatened – “he told me they would break my ass” – by a person on behalf of Jamie Spears. He later received a letter from Jamie’s lawyers accusing him of several violations of copyright law. Miller closed the site but a few days later, determined to pursue the thesis that Spears was mistreated, put it back online. At the same time, the paparazzi continued to follow Spears and photograph her more and more often as she cried in her car. Other people close to her, including a producer heard from the New Yorker, they said that at that time he was distant, less present, and that he no longer laughed.
This same impression was confirmed in 2012, on the occasion of Spears’ participation in the television program X-Factor as a judge. Some people who had worked with her previously said they found her to have changed a lot. Kim Vo, his former hairdresser, said that one evening they went to dinner together at a restaurant in Las Vegas. The bill was $1,300, and Spears said he couldn’t pay his half. At that time, according to court documents consulted by the New York Times, Spears had only a weekly salary of $2,000, regardless of earnings. Yet, just for his part in X-Factor, he points out the New Yorker, had earned $15 million.
The first requests for the conclusion of the protection
In 2013, Ingham told Judge Goetz that Spears was dissayed with his father as a guardian and intended to conclude the existing deal. He said that she had also expressed a willingness to stop live shows. Spears’ claims were, however, evaluated by the judge and attorneys on both sides, taking into account the possibility of an influence on Spears by her then-boyfriend, David Lucado, an Atlanta man out of the Hollywood ring.
At the end of her relationship with Spears, Lucado defended her as an “exceptional mother” and claimed that “anyone who saw her interactions with the children, he would have understood that there is no need for protection over Britney’s personal life. Newspapers reported that Spears and Lucado’s relationship had ended after Jamie acquired a video of Lucado kissing another woman and showing it to Spears.
From 2015, spears’ Instagram account began to be published photographs and more intimate thoughts and not just promotional and marketing communications. In a short time, he writes the New Yorker, those publications began to be read and interpreted by fans as an expression of Spears’ cryptic desires or coded messages. A photograph with the sun’s rays filtering through trees on a path in a forest was accompanied by the caption “Infinity”. One of the landscape of Mars had as its caption the text “Nothing is as it seems”.
At one point, photographs of Spears’ new boyfriend, Sam Asghari, a 23-year-old actor and model she met on the set of one of her music videos, began to appear. But, in general, the topic of debate among Spears fans became the degree of “reliability” of those social channels, how much they really said about her and how much instead they hid of a presumably less rewarding and serene reality. Tess Barker and Barbara Gray, two American comedic hosts, also made it the subject of a podcast called “Britney’s Gram”.
When Jamie was rushed to gastrointestinal perforation in early 2019, Spears announced a break from indefinite work. A few weeks later, co-guardian Andrew Wallet resigned from his post, and it was reported that Spears had entered a psychiatric facility due to stress over her father’s health condition. In an anonymous voicemail sent to “Britney’s Gram,” a person who introduced himself as a former collaborator in the legal team working for Spears’ guardianship said she had been forced into the psychiatric facility months earlier, against her will.
That testimony gave rise to a series of assumptions among many Spears fans and the “#FreeBritney” movement, called by Jamie “a joke” and its organizers “conspiracy theorists”. Some fans read as a confirmation of those assumptions that Spears, at one point, posted a video on instagram wearing what he called in the caption “my favorite yellow shirt”, but after a fan had previously written in a comment on Spears’ TikTok account “if you need help, dress yellow in the next video”.
Spears’ instagram channel, writes the New Yorker, became more and more bizarre, with regular publications of almost identical photos and videos of her dancing alone, in her home.
At the hearing on June 23, Spears described many of the situations she has experienced since 2008. She said she was forced to go on tour and underwent psychological tests and unwanted therapies, including taking a lithium-based drug that made her feel “drunk and scared.”
Spears said that in the psychiatric facility where she had been admitted she was forced to attend ten hours of meetings a day, seven days a week, for four months, and that if she did not cooperate they would not allow her to see her children or her boyfriend. He said he wanted to remove his intrauterine contraceptive device, to try to have other children, but that “this so-called team does not let me go to the doctor to remove it, because they do not want me to have other children”.
In November 2020, Ingham had told the court that Spears said he was “afraid of his father” and that he would not do any new shows as long as he maintained control over his career. A financial firm, Bessemer Trust, had been appointed as co-guardian of Spears’ assets along with Jamie but following Spears’ recent testimony asked to withdraw from the guardianship, claiming that the agreement had been signed with the understanding that it was voluntary. In December 2020, the protection was extended tono in September 2021.
The lack of control over one’s own decisions in the medical field is a fundamental characteristic of many protections, comments the New Yorker, but it is not excluded that other possible less restrictive forms of protection will be better suited to the current circumstances in the case of Spears. It has been clear for some time, continues the New Yorker, that Spears’ guardians have had and still have a role in the decisions that affect his personal life, decisions that may not make much sense if viewed from the outside but not unmotivated. Some people argue that the silence built by the family around this affair at first was well-intentioned and, that after so much intrusiveness in Spears’ private life by strangers, it was appropriate to grant her her privacy.
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Regarding heritage, a person on the team who follows Spears told the New Yorker that at the time of the institution of the protection Spears’ net worth was a few million dollars, while it is estimated to be now more than 60.
The most recent request made by Spears’ lawyer, before he left office, is that in place of the father be appointed as guardian and permanent legal administrator Jodi Montgomery, who has been in charge of Spears’ personal affairs since September 2019, when Jamie, following his health problems, asked for exemption from protection regarding his daughter’s personal life. Jamie currently continues to maintain control over Britney’s estate. In recent days, his lawyers have presented the court with a file that would attest to Spears’ dissatisfaction with Montgomery, and according to many observers the strategy will be to try to weaken the reliability of Spears’ statements in all upcoming hearings.
Martinis, the legal expert of the Center for the Rights of the Disabled heard by the New Yorker, described the safeguards as a tool that can in many cases lead to conditions with no way out. On the one hand they may prove to be ‘inevitable’ and on the other hand they are very exposed to the risk of abuse. If the person under guardianship “acts” well, this scenario can be framed as evidence of the need for protection itself. If that person suffers or struggles to move forward, the same conclusion can be drawn about the need for protection.
“If Britney were to get out of it, take note: at the first mistake she makes, we’ll see people pointing the finger and saying it would never have happened if she had been under guardianship,” Martinis said.