LOS ANGELES (AP) — Britney Spears' self-styled manager took the stand in his defamation lawsuit against her parents Tuesday, claiming he acted to protect her from paparazzi and others during a critical period in her life.
Sam Lutfi told jurors how he met Spears at a nightclub in May 2007 and said she struck up a conversation by asking him if she could have his hat.
He said he told her no. "She liked that. She doesn't get told 'no' often. So it was refreshing to hear 'no' once. We started talking, hit it off, and she started calling and texting me. We hung out and became friends," he said.
Lutfi described the singer at that time as being "in crisis mode."
"She was very distraught," he said. "She was having a child custody battle and was in the middle of a divorce." He added she also had drug problems.
Lutfi said he met Spears right after she had shaved her head during a very public meltdown. "She was dealing with a lot of anxiety," he said.
The witness's testimony was interrupted frequently by objections from lawyers for Spears' parents, Jamie and Lynne Spears. Lutfi's attorney asked him if he took steps to control the press mob that was following Spears constantly.
Lutfi said he alleviated the problem with photographers by texting them where Spears would be going so they could follow her at a safe distance.
"I also started setting up meetings at her home with press photographers so they could get to know her as a human being," he said, referring to himself as the singer's "manager."
Under questioning by his lawyer, Lutfi said Spears had dubbed him her manager in June 2007 during a meeting with recording executives and had later asked him to take the job.
"I told her I had no experience as a manager for someone of her caliber," he said. "I wanted time to think about it. "
But Lutfi said Spears pressed on, saying, "Sam, do you know what this job pays?" and outlined an offer he did not refuse.
"She said, 'I'm getting $800,000 a month even when I'm not working. You will get 15 percent of that,'" he recalled.
Lutfi said he accepted the job with conditions, insisting that Britney, who had fired her entire staff, allow him to put together a new "varsity team" consisting of a lawyer, agent and business manager.
"And I wanted her to promise me to stay clean," he said, noting he brought drug-sniffing dogs to Spears' home, where they found a baggie full of a white powder. He said she promised and he flushed the powder down the toilet.
He said he then took control.
"I took charge of dealing with the press. I acted as a liaison between Britney and her child custody attorneys. I interfaced with her record label and video producers. I helped her choose artwork for her album and merchandise."
But he said by September, the singer had relapsed on drugs, and he walked away. On Oct. 1, 2007, he said, "Britney called me from her car and asked me to come back and help her kick drugs."
Lutfi said Spears had been parked all night outside a tanning salon in a mini mall, where he found her and took her home. He said he moved into her house after that, although there was no romantic relationship.
Through all of this, he said he had no written management contract nor was he ever paid.
Lutfi, wearing a suit and black-rimmed glasses, spoke in a businesslike manner as he described his increasing role as intermediary in the star's career and private life. He said he broached the subject of her estrangement from her parents and arranged a reunion for Britney and her mother. Jurors were shown a photo of the two women meeting and smiling. He also said he approached her father about a meeting but he declined.
In his lawsuit, Lutfi alleges that Lynne Spears defamed him in her book about her daughter's darkest days, depicting him as a Svengali-like figure who exploited Britney's vulnerabilities and gave her drugs to control her.
He denies those allegations and portrays himself as the singer's protector who managed her career during a time when she was in distress and ultimately hospitalized for mental problems.
Earlier, Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bruguera denied a motion by Lutfi's lawyer to gain access to Spears' medical records from the UCLA neuropsychiatric unit.
The attorney, Joseph Schleimer, said he wanted to know whether the drugs mentioned in Lynne Spears' book were actually in her daughter's system when she was hospitalized.
The judge said it was unlikely that had been determined, and noted the report was inadmissible without testimony from a doctor or other expert witness. The lawyer had listed no such witnesses for the trial.
Lutfi said he attended college but never graduated due to problems with attention deficit disorder, for which he has taken medication for years. He said he works as a consultant in his mother's gas station business and has helped produce music videos for Courtney Love and other rock singers.