Seemingly in response to the recent outpouring of support for Britney, Jamie, through his attorney Vivian Lee Thoreen, has said that the ball is in Britney's court to end his 13-year conservatorship over her. According to his lawyer, Jamie "would love nothing more than to see Britney not need a conservatorship."
"Whether or not there is an end to the conservatorship really depends on Britney. If she wants to end her conservatorship, she can file a petition to end it," Thoreen told CNN on February 26. You might be thinking, Isn't that exactly what she's been trying to do this whole time?
As far as we know and court documents show, Spears has not yet filed to end her conservatorship completely — she's only tried to push her father out. “My client has informed me that she is afraid of her father,” Britney’s attorney Samuel D. Ingham III told the Judge Brenda Penny in a November 2020 hearing. “She will not perform again if her father is in charge of her career.”
The fact that Britney has not formally petitioned to end the conservatorship since entering it in 2008 means that her dad is technically right, but it doesn't mean that she is comfortable in the current conservatorship set up as Jamie implies. Scott Rahn, the Southern California-based founder and managing partner of RMO, and an attorney who specializes in conservatorships, broke down the legal obstacles involved in the case on a recent phone call with Refinery29. "What [Thoreen and Jamie] are saying are that court processes have procedures, and the procedure that she needs to follow if she wishes to terminate the conservatorship is as he described, which is to file through her court-appointed counsel if that's what she really wants to do," Rahn says. "I haven't seen or heard anything from the filings or reported from the filings to suggest that she's filed what would be required to terminate the conservatorship."
As stated in Framing Britney Spears, a recent documentary about Britney's career and conservatorship, and backed by Rahn, it is extremely rare to see a conservatorship petition approved. "Having been in the probate courts for the last several decades, in the cases that we do see, it’s frankly extremely uncommon to have a conservatorship terminated." He says that's because the vast majority of conservatorship cases involve someone who is permanently mentally or physically compromised and is never going to improve. The singer's case is unique in that, as far as we know, she doesn't seem to be in that bucket.
Britney's team, sensing that the conservatorship could be nearly impossible to do away with all together, could just be trying to win the battle by loosening Jamie's control, not the war of ending it all together.
In Spears' last hearing, Judge Penny officially overruled Jamie's objections and granted Spears' wish to appoint Bessemer Trust Co., a financial fiduciary (someone whose job it is to take care of money or assets for another person) as co-conservator along with Jamie, which seemed like another step in diminishing her father's power over her estate. That's another thing Thoreen tried to clear up. She claims Jamie's objections weren't because he didn't want to share power, but instead because he felt the distribution wasn't equal. "Jamie never contested or objected to Bessemer being appointed as his co-conservator," she said. "And at the last hearing, it was reported that Jamie was trying to get more power than his co-conservator, and that is completely inaccurate. What we were arguing is that Jamie and his co-conservator should have equal power, that was always consistent."
Throughout this entire process, and even more so following Framing Britney Spears, Jamie has been widely criticized for what seems like a totalitarian hold over his daughter. But Thoreen argues that he doesn't have the keys — the court evaluates what's in Britney's best interest, and so far they've upheld the status quo. "The court investigator also interviews everyone who is involved in the conservatorship, and they do a deep dive to really study the conservatorship to find out what's going on. And what I can tell you is every year the court has kept the conservatorship in place," she said.
Rahn sees her point. "The courts do not take conservatorship lightly," he says. "I can tell you from experience that each of the judges that I've seen look very acutely at the circumstances in establishing, maintaining, and modifying a conservatorship, because ultimately they're taking someone's rights away and giving them to someone else to manage. In going through those analyses courts want to see if this is absolutely necessary. Conservatorship is, in essence, a last resort, if you will."
"Jamie's lawyer is one of the top-notch probate litigators in the country, and she knows what she's doing inside and out," Rahn continued. "And Britney's counsel is very well-respected in our space. You've got different voices that the court is listening to in making these decisions, and to Vivian's point, the court has not made any inkling that the conservatorship needs to be terminated. Even in giving Bessemer more authority, there was no indication that there was any intention of terminating the conservatorship now and in the future."
Through his lawyer, Jamie insists he cares about his daughter and is trying to work in her best interest. He also admits he is aware their relationship would never win him a "Father of the Year" award.
"Jamie is not suggesting that he is the perfect dad or that he would receive any 'Father of the Year' award," she said, "Like any parent, he doesn't always see eye-to-eye on what Britney may want. [...] But the key is Britney knows that she can contact her daddy anytime and that he will be there for her. Whether or not there's a conservatorship, Jamie will love Britney."
Jamie and his lawyer are painting a different picture than many believe to be accurate, and it's difficult to decipher if what he's alleging is the truth. Has the media and #FreeBritney movement been leaning too hard into a "good vs. evil" narrative? Or does Jamie Spears just have a really good lawyer?
"I think it's both," says Rahn. "I don't think it's an 'or,' I think it's an 'and.' I think Jamie hired good counsel, but the judge is also one of the most experienced probate judges in the country and knows this stuff inside and out. She's very compassionate, empathetic, and smart. So you've got a lot of very well-respected people involved in this case, making decisions that outsiders may look at askant, but the reality is for those of us practitioners in the space, it's not what the media portrays it to be."
The next court hearing is scheduled for March 17.
Refinery29 reached out to Britney for comment but did not hear back.