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Britney Spears for years expressed serious opposition to the conservatorship that gave her father control over her finances and personal life, according to confidential documents obtained by the New York Times.
The 39-year-old pop star has rarely commented on the unusual legal arrangement that has stripped her of her independence since 2008. But the records reviewed by the Times, which co-produced a documentary on the fraught process that led to the conservatorship, reveal that she has repeatedly objected to the authority that the courts granted her father, Jamie Spears.
“She articulated she feels the conservatorship has become an oppressive and controlling tool against her,” a court investigator wrote in 2016, according to the Times report. The singer said the system had “too much control … Too, too much!”, the investigator summarized. The arrangement was so strict, Spears said, it gave her father power over who she dated and befriended and how she designed her home, the records showed.
The documents were revealed one day before the singer was due to publicly address the court in a hearing about the conservatorship, a significant moment in a years-long battle in which she has almost never directly commented. The legal fight over the conservatorship has been shrouded in secrecy for years, though Spears, through her court-appointed lawyer, has recently pushed for more transparency and last year made clear in court that she no longer wants her father involved in her affairs.
In 2016, the court investigator said the singer requested that the conservatorship be terminated as soon as possible: “She is ‘sick of being taken advantage of’ and she said she is the one working and earning her money but everyone around her is on her payroll,” the Times reported.
The singer further described being surrounded by security staff at all times and that her credit card was held by her security team and assistant. She lamented to the investigator that she couldn’t make cosmetic changes to her home, including restaining her kitchen cabinets.
In 2019, the singer told the judge that the conservatorship had forced her to stay at a mental health facility and to perform against her will, according to the paper.
While she was earning millions from her Las Vegas residency, the singer was also only given a $2,000 weekly allowance, the records further revealed.
The Times also uncovered documents from a closed hearing in 2014, in which Spears’ court-appointed attorney, Samuel D Ingham III, said the singer wanted to explore the removal of her father as conservator, raising concerns about his drinking and a “shopping list” of other grievances.
Lawyers for the conservatorship at the hearing said that Jamie had voluntarily submitted to alcohol tests, but the father’s attorney said he had taken one test and refused to take others, alleging that the request was “inappropriate”, the Times reported. The judge agreed, responding, “Absolutely inappropriate. And who is she to be demanding that of anybody?”
Ingham responded that Spears was upset the court was dismissing her concerns: “She said to me, when she gave me this shopping list, that she anticipates that, as it has been done before, the court will simply sweep it under the carpet and ignore any negative inferences with regard to Mr Spears,” the transcript said.
The Times’ Framing Britney Spears documentary, which was released earlier this year, highlighted the contradictions of the singer’s arrangement – that she could be performing sold-out shows and making millions, but also be considered incapable of making basic decisions about her health and finances. The singer’s estate pays for her father’s attorney and others involved in controlling her life.
Conservatorship is a type of court-appointed guardianship intended for people who can no longer make decisions for themselves, typically elderly and infirm people. But critics have argued that the process can be exploited and they have pointed to Spears’ case as an example of such abuse. Her arrangement was set up after she suffered a public breakdown amid intense abuse by the paparazzi, who stalked the singer and exploited her mental health struggles.
Jamie is currently a co-conservator of the estate alongside a corporate fiduciary, known as Bessemer Trust. Her father had previously acted as a personal conservator, giving him authority over her medical and mental health treatment, but a professional licensed conservator has taken over that job.
The documentary also featured the #FreeBritney movement, a campaign led by fans who have closely followed the court case and rallied outside hearings, arguing for the conservatorship to be terminated. Fans are planning to gather on Wednesday afternoon in downtown LA for the highly anticipated hearing, which will feature direct testimony from the singer.
The revelations in the Times’ report was vindication of the concerns that advocates and fans have been raising for years, said Junior Olivas, a #FreeBritney activist.
“She was able to make millions and millions of dollars, but she had no voice,” said Olivas, a 33-year-old longtime fan who has closely followed the case. “My heart breaks for her. They worked her so hard and she had no control over anything. How is this even allowed in the US?”
He said he hoped the new report would accelerate a process to end the conservatorship. “I’ve seen Britney perform her butt off so many times on stage, but they are trying to argue she is incapacitated. It never made sense.”
A representative for Jamie’s lawyer declined to comment on the New York Times report on Tuesday. His attorney told reporters in February, “Jamie Spears has diligently and professionally carried out his duties as one of Britney’s conservators, and his love for his daughter and dedication to protecting her is clearly apparent to the court.”