For the first time in more than 13 years, Britney Spears woke up Thursday without her father, James “Jamie” Spears, in control of her $60 million fortune.
His ability to pull the levers of her life by controlling her purse strings was cut off on Wednesday, when a Los Angeles judge suspended him as conservator of her estate, “effective immediately.”
With Jamie stripped of his powers, Britney appears on the brink of some big changes in her life that have been years in the making. But many questions still remain as the chart-topping “Toxic” singer enters a new chapter. Rolling Stone breaks down a few below:
Will the judge overseeing her case actually terminate the conservatorship on November 12th?
Britney’s new lawyer, Mathew Rosengart, tells Rolling Stone his “hope and expectation” is that the conservatorship will be terminated at the next court hearing date of November 12th — without any orders for a further mental evaluation. During an exchange with Rosengart in open court on Wednesday, Judge Brenda Penny appeared poised to grant the termination as soon as all the parties formally reach a final agreement.
“Would the court be willing to entertain a termination pursuant to stipulation, and we could come in and formalize the termination in order to get a date sooner than December 8th?” Rosengart asked, before the army of lawyers involved in the case settled on the November 12th date. “I mean, I’m happy to work with the parties in that regard, if you want to do that,” Judge Penny responded.
“If [the judge is] going so far as to say she’s willing to entertain a stipulation for termination, I would say that’s where she’s headed,” New York lawyer Carolyn Reinach Wolf, an expert in conservatorships, tells Rolling Stone.
Courts are generally protected from liability in ending conservatorships as long as they’re basing their decisions on evidence and not acting with gross negligence, Reinach Wolf says. In this case, Britney’s lawyer, her dad, and Jodi Montgomery, the temporary conservator in charge of Britney’s day-to-day affairs, have agreed it’s time for the conservatorship to end.
“My reading is that the conservatorship is on its last legs. It’s not a matter of if but when, and I think it will be soon,” Tony Chicotel, senior staff attorney at California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform and a conservatorship expert, says.
Lawyers for all the parties agreed in court on Wednesday that termination of the conservatorship was “uncontested.” If that doesn’t change in the days leading up to November 12th, the judge more than likely will give it the rubber stamp.
Will the end of conservatorship affect Spears’ access to her children?
Britney, 39, has made it clear her relationships with the two sons she shares with her ex-husband Kevin Federline are very important to her. “I’m extremely lucky because my two babies are such gentlemen and so kind that I must have done something right,” she wrote in a caption to a photo of sons Sean Preston and Jayden James shared on Instagram in March.
While the conservatorship played a big role in Britney’s ability to see her sons when they were younger, Federline’s high-powered lawyer Mark Vincent Kaplan tells Rolling Stone he sees no reason why an end to conservatorship now should affect their “de facto” custody arrangement. He also said his client is “happy” for his ex.
“He’s happy for Britney. This is something she obviously wanted. Some of the things that were said about the seemingly overreaching and oppressive restrictions imposed upon her were pretty serious. If they existed, and now they no longer would exist, he’s happy for her,” Kaplan said.
“Kevin is the primary custodial parent. He has the kids 90% of the time. When Britney wants to exercise custody, she requests it, and Kevin hasn’t opposed it. It’s between Britney and Kevin and the kids,” Kaplan says.
“Keep in mind, we’re not dealing with toddler or grade school-aged kids anymore. These are young teenagers, 14 and 15, so any custody order that’s contrary to what a 14- or 15-year-old teenager wants to do is probably highly likely to be doomed to failure,” he said.
When the conservatorship was first imposed 13 years ago, the kids were very young, so the conservatorship was an “important condition of exercising of custody,” he says. For example, Jamie or someone designated by Jamie and agreed to by Federline had to be present.
“That isn’t the case anymore because we’re dealing with two teenage boys who are able to express themselves, able to communicate with both parents about what they like or don’t like. Although Kevin has the ultimate decision, if the conservatorship should become dissolved in the next few months, I don’t think that, per se, would result in any automatic changes in circumstances,” Kaplan says.
“I can’t speak for Britney. I don’t know how she views this,” he adds. “But the existence of the conservatorship hasn’t resulted, per se, in a limitation of her custody, so consequently, any dissolving of the conservatorship isn’t going to result in an automatic expansion of her custody.”
Without the conservatorship, if Britney wants to modify the custody order, and she and Federline couldn’t first reach an agreement, she would have to go to court on her own and request a change.
“It’s going to be up to her. It’s not up to Jamie Spears or Jodi Montgomery or anybody. We’ll have to wait and see,” Kaplan says. “Whether or not there’s a conservatorship, Kevin’s interests are that when his sons are visiting with their mom, wherever that might be, that they’re adequately supervised and safe.”
Britney said in her June 23rd statement she wanted to sue her dad. If her lawyer finds evidence of misconduct once Jamie hands over all his files, will she?
“Absolutely. And the ramifications are going to be more severe than just civil litigation against Mr. Spears based upon my present understanding of what happened here,” Rosengart told reporters after the Wednesday hearing. “My firm and I are going to take a top-to-bottom look at what Jamie Spears and his representatives have done here. That’s already in process, that will continue as long as we can possibly do that to get justice for Britney.”
Will there be any push for criminal charges, possibly related to the allegations uncovered by the New York Times claiming Jamie hired a security firm that bugged her bedroom?
“I’m not the one who presses charges, that’s up to law enforcement,” Rosengart said Wednesday. “I used to work for the Justice Department. I don’t anymore. I don’t have that kind of power, but I suspect law enforcement — and it’s a law enforcement’s decision, not mine — will be taking a hard look at what the Times uncovered and reported on September 24th.”
Rosengart said Jamie’s suspension meant that he was “obligated under the law to turn over his files to the temporary conservator” and “those files are supposed to also consist of attorney-client communications.”
“It’s a cliché, but one question we’re going to be asking is, ‘What did they know and when did they know it?’ with regard to eavesdropping — putting a listening device under Britney Spears’ bed in her bedroom,” he told reporters, calling the claim “very, very troubling.”
“That’s something for law enforcement and not myself to make the ultimate conclusion on. But my firm will be looking into it,” Rosengart said.
Kaplan also weighed in on the surveillance issue after The Times story and its documentary Controlling Britney Spears included quotes from a former security staffer saying he had first-hand knowledge that the recording device allegedly placed in Britney’s bedroom picked up confidential conversations between the singer and her kids, former boyfriend, and her prior lawyer.
“If that’s true, and I have no knowledge that it is, but if the allegation is true, and if it was secretly done, that’s what we call in California electronic eavesdropping, and it’s a felony,” Kaplan tells Rolling Stone.
He said if Jamie was involved in any recordings of the minor children in Britney’s home after August 2019, that would be a violation of a Domestic Violence Restraining Order in the case.
Rosengart referred to the DVRO multiple times Wednesday. The three-year order that’s in effect for another year stemmed from an incident in which Jamie allegedly got into a physical altercation with one of Britney’s sons, sources previously said.
If the elder Spears was involved in any decision to secretly record the minor children inside Britney’s home after the restraining order was put in place, that would be a violation of the DVRO that Federline could pursue, according to Kaplan.
But regardless of the date, “It’s still illegal to electronically eavesdrop on people in California. You can’t defend yourself saying, ‘I didn’t know the kids were going to be there.’ When you’re recording a parent who exercises custody in a home and you’re very familiar with what goes on there, it’s obviously foreseeable and likely that at some point, recordings of these minor children are going to be captured. That would be serious,” Kaplan says.
As things stand now, Kaplan says Kevin is not taking any immediate action. “But obviously things change as you learn more,” he says. “He wouldn’t be happy if it happened. A major concern is that it’s not still occurring.”
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