Britney Spears's dad, Jamie Spears, has petitioned the court to end her conservatorship after 13 years — and after a full year of her fighting to remove him as conservator. So why is he calling for this now — and what will happen next?
The latest development came Tuesday when Jamie, through his lawyers, seemingly conceded to #FreeBritney.
"As Mr. Spears has said again and again, all he wants is what is best for his daughter," his attorney Vivian Thoreen wrote in the filing. "If Ms. Spears wants to terminate the conservatorship and believes that she can handle her own life, Mr. Spears believes that she should get that chance."
In a statement to Yahoo Entertainment, Britney's attorney Mathew S. Rosengart called it a "massive legal victory" and "vindication" for the superstar singer, whose next conservatorship hearing is Sept. 29. Already on the agenda that day? Removing Jamie as conservator — something Rosengart's been trying to do for his client officially since July 26.
The big question, however, is — why now? It has been one year since Britney first moved to try to push her estranged father out of power — and have her legal struggle, which spawned the #FreeBritney movement, unsealed and opened to the public. By November, Britney — one of the most successful performers of our time — made it clear that she refused to work again until Jamie was out. Instead of stepping down upon her request, Jamie then spent $1,356,293 in legal fees — of the star's money — to fight her to remain in his role. A large chunk of that — $531,065 — Jamie spent on "media matters," including using a crisis PR expert to defend him in the press while painting Britney in a negative light. Again, with her money.
Despite Britney speaking out in court, first in June and then July, alleging conservatorship abuse, Jamie continued to fight to keep his job, for which he earns a salary of $192,000 a year, $24,000 for office space and a percentage of deals he makes on his daughter's behalf. Last month, he said he would be "willing" to step down but only if approximately $2 million, including the referenced $1.3 million, were signed off on by the judge so he would not be on the hook for it later. Her lawyer called it "extortion."
Jamie petitioning to end the conservatorship — when he has fought so hard to keep it going — is an "interesting move," California-based family law attorney Christopher C. Melcher of Walzer Melcher says to Yahoo Entertainment.
First, let's remember that Britney's attorney has not filed a petition to end the conservatorship. "I think Rosengart" — who came on as Britney's counsel in July — "wanted to eliminate Jamie first, then seek to end the conservatorship" once Jamie was out of the way," explains Melcher, who does not represent any parties in the case.
Melcher points out, however, that ending the conservatorship is not up to Jamie, despite it being him who put it in place 13 years ago. Only the court, under Judge Brenda Penny, can terminate it.
Also, Jamie wrote in the petition that recent events showed him that Britney should get a chance to control her own affairs. However, really "nothing new has happened" for such an about-face, Melcher notes. It has now been nearly three months since Britney first claimed she was the victim of conservatorship abuse in a June 23 statement to the court. Yet Jamie defiantly refused to step down after that. As recently as last month, in his response to the petition for his removal, he insisted that the conservatorship has been beneficial to Britney under his control.
"If he was so moved by her statements," in which Britney said she cries every day, is depressed and can't sleep ever since her dad was put in charge of her life, "he would have asked the court to terminate the conservatorship then," Melcher said. However, Jamie has continuously fought against that.
Melcher thinks it is now a case of Jamie's back being "against the wall." With his own attorneys noting that he is seen as the villain in all this, taking the further step to end the conservatorship altogether changes the narrative to make him look more "like the hero."
On Tuesday, Rosengart called out Jamie's legal team for "inappropriately" sending the petition to end the conservatorship to the press before serving it to the lawyers. Melcher says that using the press like that suggests it is more of a "PR move" than Jamie putting his daughter first.
TMZ has sources, seemingly on Team Jamie, that suggest he is doing this "to call Britney's bluff." Jamie, according to these sources, does not think her mental health issues have improved; he was criticized for detailing them in a filing last month, potentially violating her privacy and perhaps even Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) rules. But after this long battle, the TMZ sources say, "it's almost like [he's] saying, 'OK, you think the conservatorship should end. Then bring it on. Let's see what happens.' "
Also, Britney has said she wants to end the conservatorship without going through another mental health evaluation because doctors have failed her over the last 13 years. The TMZ sources also say that Jamie feels that the judge would never end the conservatorship without such an evaluation — despite it not being mandatory in California— and Jamie has privately said "that evaluation would present an insurmountable case to maintain the conservatorship."
Jamie's attorney has not responded to our request for comment about the TMZ sources' claims — or Jamie's sudden change of heart.
At the Sept. 29 hearing — which Britney will reportedly be present for — there will be a number of matters before the judge. The “most important” one, Melcher says, is restoring Britney’s liberty — or the court temporarily lifting the restrictions placed on her under the conservatorship.
Due to all the matters at hand, the court will also likely set a different hearing date to resolve the financial disputes with Jamie. Rosengart has said there will be no “multimillion-dollar settlement” to Jamie, who said he wanted the $2 million in past bills covered before he exits — as well as a $48 million fiduciary bond exonerated. (The bond was required by the court to protect the conservatee from misconduct by a conservator. It is especially important in this case because there have been allegations of Jamie mismanaging funds.)
Also, on Sept. 29, a plan will likely be put in place to transition Britney’s finances from Jamie’s control to a professional selected by Britney. California-based certified public accountant Jason Rubin had been expected to take over. However, he removed his name from consideration last month.