Civil trial opens against Britney Spears' parents
FILE - In this Feb. 11, 2012 file photo, singer Britney Spears arrives at the Pre-GRAMMY Gala & Salute to Industry Icons with Clive Davis honoring Richard Branson in Beverly Hills, Calif. Jurors were selected in a case against the singer's parents and conservators with opening statements expected to begin Thursday Oct. 18, 2012, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Vince Bucci, file)
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Britney Spears' former confidante was made a scapegoat for her mental breakdown despite efforts to keep the singer from using drugs, his attorney told a jury Thursday in a case against the pop superstar's parents and conservators.
Attorney Joseph Schleimer told the panel that Sam Lutfi was trying to help the singer but lost control in a series of events that led to her being hospitalized and placed under a court-ordered conservator. Lutfi is also seeking a share of the singer's fortunes, claiming he had an agreement to serve as her manager in exchange for 15 percent of her earnings.
Schleimer conceded the case would be a complicated one. His opening statements included flashing photos of Spears with a shaved head and striking an SUV with an umbrella. He said one of Lutfi's first actions after being hired as manager was having drug-sniffing dogs search the singer's hilltop home.
"My client was made a scapegoat for drug abuse and erratic behavior of Britney Spears," Schleimer told the jury, most of whom knew of the singer but hadn't followed her career or personal troubles.
Schleimer claimed Spears favored amphetamines and that the dogs turned up a substance the Grammy-winner told Lutfi was probably crystal meth.
"He was terrified of being her manager when she overdosed," Schleimer said.
Jurors likely won't hear directly from the singer, who remains under a conservatorship overseen by a judge who has ordered her not to appear for trial or a deposition. Superior Court Judge Susan Bruguera told Schleimer during a break that all the accusations he raised during his opening statement should be supported by evidence that will be presented at trial.
Schleimer said he would prove them through either "testimony or documentary evidence."
Attorneys for Spears' parents and conservators will have their own opportunity to present opening remarks to jurors Friday afternoon when the trial resumes.
Lutfi and Spears' parents, Jamie and Lynne, both sat in the audience as Schleimer made his opening statements to the panel of eight women and four men. Jamie Spears did not look up at the photos of his daughter that Schleimer displayed.
Lutfi is seeking millions of dollars from Spears and her family, claiming her mother's book lied about him drugging and isolating the pop superstar. He is also seeking a portion of the singer's profits, claiming he was a key player in her 2007 album "Blackout" and had the right to serve as her manager for years.
The case is the culmination of years of acrimony between Lutfi and Spears' family and conservators, who successfully obtained a restraining order against him to keep him from contacting the singer or trying to intervene in her life. The order has expired, but conservatorship attorneys are seeking repayment for more than $93,000 in legal fees — a judgment Lutfi is appealing.