[Follow live updates on Britney Spears’s conservatorship hearing.]
Britney Spears told a Los Angeles courtroom — and the world — that she desperately wants to end the conservatorship that has overseen her life for the last 13 years, calling it an abusive and controlling system in which she was drugged and forced to work against her will, during a bombshell 23-minute speech on Wednesday.
“I’ve been in denial. I’ve been in shock. I am traumatized,” Ms. Spears said over the phone during the remote hearing, which she insisted be broadcast publicly. “I just want my life back.”
Ms. Spears called for the arrangement to end “without having to be evaluated,” adding, “I shouldn’t be in a conservatorship if I can work. The laws need to change.”
“I truly believe this conservatorship is abusive,” the singer said. “I don’t feel like I can live a full life.”
Speaking from prepared statements, Ms. Spears said, “I haven’t been back to court in a long time because I don’t think I was heard on any level when I came to court last time.”
She said she didn’t know that she could petition to end the conservatorship. “I’m sorry for my ignorance,” she said, “but I didn’t know that.” She explained, “It’s embarrassing and demoralizing what I’ve been through, and that’s the main reason I didn’t say it openly. I didn’t think anybody would believe me.”
After a brief recess, Vivian Lee Thoreen, a lawyer for Mr. Spears, read a statement on behalf of her client: “He is sorry to see his daughter suffering and in so much pain,” she said. “Mr. Spears loves his daughter, and he misses her very much.”
Ms. Spears’s speech came after the singer’s court-appointed lawyer in the conservatorship, Samuel D. Ingham III, requested in April that Ms. Spears be allowed — on an expedited basis — to address the judge directly. Last year, Mr. Ingham began requesting substantial changes to the conservatorship on behalf of Ms. Spears, including stripping power from her father, James P. Spears, who had long overseen her personal life and finances.
Mr. Ingham said at the time that his client “strongly opposed” Mr. Spears as conservator, adding that she was afraid of her father and would not return to performing so long as he was in charge.
Ms. Spears, through her lawyer, also called for more transparency in the case, with Mr. Ingham writing that the singer was “vehemently opposed to this effort by her father to keep her legal struggle hidden away in the closet as a family secret.”
Confidential court records obtained recently by The New York Times revealed that Ms. Spears had raised issues with her father’s role as early as 2014, and has repeatedly asked about terminating the conservatorship altogether, though Mr. Ingham has not publicly filed to do so.
Ms. Spears has lived under a two-pronged conservatorship in California — covering her person and her estate — since 2008, when concerns about the singer’s mental health and potential substance abuse led Mr. Spears to petition the court for authority over his daughter.
Mr. Spears, 68, currently oversees his daughter’s nearly $60 million fortune, alongside a professional wealth management firm she requested; a licensed professional conservator took over Ms. Spears’s personal care on an ongoing temporary basis in 2019.
Representatives for Mr. Spears and the conservatorship have said that it was necessary to protect Ms. Spears, and that she could move to end the conservatorship whenever she wanted.
Earlier this year, Ms. Thoreen said that Mr. Spears had “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.”
But fans and observers have questioned how Ms. Spears has continued to qualify for a conservatorship, sometimes known as a guardianship, which is typically a last resort for people who cannot care for themselves, including those with serious disabilities or dementia. Until recently, the singer had continued to perform and bring in millions of dollars under the arrangement.
In 2016, Ms. Spears told a court investigator assigned to her case that she wanted the conservatorship to end as soon as possible, according to the records reported by The Times. “She articulated she feels the conservatorship has become an oppressive and controlling tool against her,” the investigator wrote. “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.”
At the time, the investigator, who is responsible for periodic evaluations that are provided to the judge, concluded that the conservatorship remained in Ms. Spears’s best interest because of her complex finances, susceptibility to undue influence and “intermittent” drug issues. But the report also called for “a pathway to independence and the eventual termination of the conservatorship.”
At a closed-door hearing in 2019, Ms. Spears told the judge that she had been made to perform against her will and that she felt forced by the conservatorship into a stay at a mental health facility. She said there was nothing wrong with her, according to court records.
Outside the courthouse in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday, dozens of Ms. Spears’s passionate supporters, who rally under the banner of #FreeBritney, gathered in front of a neon pink step-and-repeat background to chant and give speeches about the unfairness of her predicament. Fans said they had traveled from Las Vegas, Detroit and Kansas City to attend. With an even larger media presence, the crowd grew to take up a full city block.
Also joining the singer’s faithful were older participants who saw Ms. Spears’s case as bringing attention to a conservatorship system in need of reform. “When we heard about this group of socially conscious young people, we saw a chance to educate Americans,” said Susan Cobianchi, 61, who connected with the #FreeBritney contingent earlier this year, after her mother died while under a conservatorship that she said kept them apart in her final days.
Lauren Herstik contributed reporting from Los Angeles.
Watch ‘Framing Britney Spears’
Our documentary about Britney Spears and her court battle with her father over control of her fortune is free on our site for New York Times subscribers in the United States. Watch it now.
The New York Times Presents 'Framing Britney Spears'
Watch The New York Times documentary about Britney Spears and her court battle with her father over control of her career and her fortune. The full video is streaming on Hulu and free on our site for Times subscribers in the United States.
[MUSIC PLAYING] ”Britney was so serious and so focused. This is a girl that‘s coming from strength.” ”She was so open and vulnerable. How we treated her was disgusting.” ”Britney had to navigate being told who she could be and what she could do.” ”People became fascinated with her sort of unraveling.” ”She accepted the conservatorship was going to happen, but she didn‘t want her father to be her conservator. That was her one request.” ”And any time there‘s that amount of money to be made, you have to question the motives of everyone close to that person.” ”Do they always have her best interests at heart?” ”Something is going on behind the scenes here.” ”I didn‘t understand what a conservatorship is, especially for somebody capable of so much that I know firsthand she‘s capable of.” ”Why is she still in this? Why is her dad making all of her decisions?” ”What do we want?” ”Free Britney.”
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