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Britney Spears Can Hire a New Lawyer of Her Choice, Judge Rules

Britney Spears Can Hire a New Lawyer of Her Choice, Judge Rules

NYT Music

More than 13 years after being deemed mentally unfit to choose her own legal representation, Britney Spears can hire a high-powered Hollywood lawyer, a Los Angeles judge ruled on Wednesday, signaling a new phase in the battle to end the conservatorship that controls the singer’s life.

The decision by Judge Brenda Penny came at the first hearing since Ms. Spears, 39, called the conservatorship that she has lived under since 2008 abusive and said that she wanted it to end without her having to undergo additional psychiatric evaluations.

Ms. Spears’s emotional speech on June 23 triggered a flurry of court filings in recent weeks as those involved in the conservatorship traded blame for the singer’s unhappiness and professed lack of personal agency. Her longtime court-appointed lawyer, Samuel D. Ingham III, asked to resign, as did a wealth management firm that was set to share control of Ms. Spears’s estate with her father, James P. Spears.

On Wednesday, the judge accepted Mr. Ingham’s resignation, along with that of co-counsel he had brought on, allowing Ms. Spears to hire Mathew S. Rosengart, a former federal prosecutor, who has worked with celebrities including Sean Penn and Steven Spielberg.

Mr. Rosengart, who is expected to aggressively pursue a path to end the legal arrangement, attended the hearing in person on behalf of Ms. Spears. When the judge asked Ms. Spears, who attended the hearing remotely by phone, if she wished to retain Mr. Rosengart, the singer said that she did and that they had spoken recently.

Lawyers for Mr. Spears did not object to allowing Ms. Spears to choose her new lawyer.

On Wednesday, Judge Penny also accepted the resignation of Bessemer Trust, the investment firm that asked to resign after Ms. Spears’s speech in court, potentially leaving the singer’s estranged father once again in sole control of her roughly $60 million estate.

Scrutiny over Ms. Spears’s care has increased in recent months, culminating in her asking in open court how she could still be considered unable to care for herself even as she continued to bring in millions of dollars as a pop star. The conservatorship that oversees her personal life and finances was approved by the court in 2008, after Mr. Spears petitioned for legal authority over the singer because of concerns about her mental health and substance abuse.

Yet even before her speech in court last month, Ms. Spears had long expressed serious objections to the conservatorship and questioned her father’s fitness as conservator, confidential court documents recently obtained by The New York Times revealed.

At the June 23 hearing, Ms. Spears raised questions about Mr. Ingham’s advocacy on her behalf, saying that she had been unaware that she could ask to terminate the conservatorship.

“I’m sorry for my ignorance, but I honestly didn’t know that,” she said, adding: “My attorney says I can’t — it’s not good, I can’t let the public know anything they did to me.”

“He told me I should keep it to myself, really,” Ms. Spears said.

It is unknown what private discussions Mr. Ingham and Ms. Spears have had over the years about ending the conservatorship, but Mr. Ingham said last month that he would step aside if asked.

Mr. Ingham was initially named as her court-appointed representative while Ms. Spears was hospitalized and found to lack the capacity to hire a lawyer at the outset of the conservatorship.

A lawyer for the singer’s mother, Lynne Spears, who is an interested party in the conservatorship, asked the court to allow the singer to choose her own lawyer this month, arguing that the singer should not be held to a decision made in 2008: “Her capacity is certainly different today.”

Mr. Spears, who was singled out as oppressive by his daughter in her recent remarks, called for an investigation into Ms. Spears’s claims — including that she was forced to perform and remain on birth control — arguing that he has not been in contact with her and has not overseen her personal care since late 2019.

Jodi Montgomery, a professional conservator, took over Ms. Spears’s personal and medical care on an ongoing temporary basis in the fall of 2019. Lawyers for Ms. Montgomery, citing text messages from Ms. Spears, have said that the singer wishes for Ms. Montgomery to continue in that role for the time being.

They added that Ms. Montgomery was currently working on a “comprehensive Care Plan” with Ms. Spears’s medical team that would “offer Ms. Spears a path to ending her Conservatorship of the Person, as she so unequivocally desires.”

Samantha Stark contributed reporting from Los Angeles.

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