Britney Spears Wants to Run Her Own Life

The pop star is "traumatized" by restrictions placed by her conservator-father.

It’s been well over a decade since I thought much about Mouseketeer-turned-pop diva and tabloid sensation Britney Spears. But it was hard to ignore the deluge of press coverage of yesterday’s hearings to wrest control of her affairs from her father.

I won’t bother to excerpt the stories but here’s a representative sampling:

  • New York Times, “Britney Spears: ‘I Just Want My Life Back’
  • CNN, “Britney Spears speaks out against ‘abusive’ conservatorship: ‘I just want my life back’
  • Variety, “Read Britney Spears’ Full Statement Against Conservatorship: ‘I Am Traumatized’

Again, I have by no means paid rapt attention to the ins and outs of the woman’s life. I vaguely recall some issues with drug abuse and mental health years ago. But how on earth can a 39-year-old woman who is not incarcerated for a crime or confined to a mental health facility for being a danger to herself and others be placed under the charge of her father or, frankly, anyone else?

As best I can glean from quick research (BBC has a decent explainer) the conservatorship stems from incidents in the 2007-2008 timeframe. That was a long time ago and she seems to have lived within normal bounds since. And, frankly, lots of people do weird things like shaving their head or commit exceedingly minor crimes like hitting a car with an umbrella when under stress and maintain their freedom. So, it seems outrageous to me that a judge can take away her freedom indefinitely with the burden of proof resting with her.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Popular Culture
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Michael Hall says:

    It gets even worse when you find out she was having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to be in this condition to the only person who could legally ask for it to end, and he refused.

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  2. Jax says:

    I didn’t follow the whole thing very closely, but one thing that stuck out to me was her saying her attorney never told her she could file to terminate the conservatorship. Wonder how much money he’s been making off her over the years?!

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  3. MarkedMan says:

    But how on earth can a 39-year-old woman who is not incarcerated for a crime or confined to a mental health facility for being a danger to herself and others be placed under the charge of her father or, frankly, anyone else?

    That’s the nut of it right there. And we don’t know. It never comes up in any of the stories. I suspect those court records are sealed. And while we don’t know of any incidents over the past decade, that doesn’t mean they haven’t occurred, it just means they haven’t happened in public.

    Short version: We only know half the story. Since this hearing is public, I assume we will get the reasons why the judge has been continuing the conservatorship all these years. Until we get that, there really is no point in speculating.

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  4. R. Dave says:

    I generally have zero interest in these celebrity stories, but at my wife’s behest, I watched that NY Times Britney Spears documentary on Hulu earlier this year, and it was actually pretty compelling as just a human interest / legal craziness story. Can’t vouch for its impartiality, but it really does paint a very Kafkaesque picture of her situation. Hard to understand how such a ridiculous arrangement has continued for so long.

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  5. Kathy says:

    It all seems to me a classic story of a father’s loving relationship with his daughter’s money.

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  6. CSK says:

    @Kathy:
    Yup.

    Apparently Spears shaved her head because her manager told her that human hair could be tested for drug residue. This was during her custody battle with her ex-husband. I don’t know why I remember this, since I didn’t follow the case at all.

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  7. Blue Galangal says:

    While I agree with you in the main, James, I think the scare quotes around “traumatized” are inappropriate. It sounds like she has indeed been traumatized: this morning we learned she has had an IUD implanted and is not allowed to have it removed, nor is she allowed to get married.

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  8. HarvardLaw92 says:

    That this has gone on this long is, in itself, cause for concern. Admittedly there is much we don’t know, but on face this appears remarkably like vultures holding someone hostage in order to enrich themselves from her assets. She should be looking to sue her father once she hopefully manages to get this perversion of justice set aside.

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  9. James Joyner says:

    @Blue Galangal: Oh, I assume she is in fact traumatized. I was just setting off her own characterization of the situation in quotes to distinguish them from my own.

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  10. MarkedMan says:

    @Blue Galangal: Not to pick nits, but that is what she said. We have not learned if it is true yet, as we have only heard her side of the story.

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  11. Stormy Dragon says:

    As many articles have pointed out, there’s an entire “industry” of lawyers who basically make their living getting themselves declared the “conservator” of wealthy older people and then plundering their property. The only difference here is they did it to someone famous so that people are noticing for once.

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  12. Kathy says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    I vaguely recall allegations of a similar kind of financial and psychological abuse of Stan Lee, shortly after he passed away. No conservatorship was involved, however.

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  13. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Kathy:
    Elder abuse in general is a problem, but in cases where the family is doing it, it least makes sense they’re involved to begin with, versus cases where someone who you’ve literally never met before is taking you to court arguing they should be in charge of all your money and the court approving it.

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  14. Stormy Dragon says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Since this hearing is public, I assume we will get the reasons why the judge has been continuing the conservatorship all these years.

    Regulatory capture. Quick: name a judge of the probate court in your area. The lawyers who serve as conservators all know who they are and devote a lot of effort to making sure the right people end up as those judges.

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  15. becca says:

    @Stormy Dragon: The Netflix movie I Care a Lot deals with this conservatory topic. Highly recommend, fiction based on fact and the cast is great.

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  16. MarkedMan says:

    @Kathy: If I recall correctly, the Stan Lee thing was almost the opposite of this. His wife ran the business and kept everything under control and when she died he made a lot of bad decisions, signing documents to push his daughter out of his life, describing horrible behavior on her part, and then later saying that although he signed the documents they were completely inaccurate and he got along great with his daughter. There were a number of such incidents with various lifelong employees, family members, lawyers, etc painting themselves as being the ones that had his interests at heart and everyone else as being greedy manipulators. From my recollection (and admittedly my information was mostly limited to the seemingly endless short pieces on io9 as this sad story unfolded) Stan Lee really was not capable of coherently articulating what was really going on.

    There’s a lesson I learned (from afar, fortunately) when I was fairly young. The courts typically only get involved when things go very wrong and you are unable to right the ship yourself. They are a poor substitute for keeping your life in order yourself and it is best not let it get out of control.

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  17. KM says:

    @Blue Galangal:
    The married part makes sense as marriage is a legal status with all sorts of rights and privileges for both parties that could override or conflict conservatorship. I don’t think it’s legal but it makes sense. What *doesn’t* is the IUD implanted against her will; that’s way beyond conservatorship and requires some serious legal declarations of lack of agency and competency to even begin to justify. It’s not typical, it’s not normal and it needs to be continually justified and renewed to remain valid as a legal rationale.

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  18. Stormy Dragon says:

    @KM:

    The married part makes sense as marriage is a legal status with all sorts of rights and privileges for both parties that could override or conflict conservatorship.

    Since the whole purpose of conservatorship is to designate a responsible party in cases where an obvious one like a spouse doesn’t exist, it seems like the presumption should be to allow the marriage, unless one is trying to artificially extend the conservatorship as long as possible (like if one were a lawyer who financially benefits from it continuing).

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  19. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Agreed, but sometimes family members can be the worst offenders. The prototypical example in that regard is Brooke Astor. Thankfully her son and his attorney received actual prison sentences for doing what was done to her, although not nearly long enough ones IMO. They still have Hell to look forward to though.

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  20. Jay L Gischer says:

    I’m pretty sure I saw something about children of hers having some bearing on the situation, as they maybe were not being treated too well. It may be that having a conservatorship saved her from criminal charges. And I’m not ruling out the possibility of an exploitative conservatorship, either. I’m just pretty sure I can’t do a good job of evaluation from this distance.

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  21. wr says:

    @Stormy Dragon: “As many articles have pointed out, there’s an entire “industry” of lawyers who basically make their living getting themselves declared the “conservator” of wealthy older people and then plundering their property. ”

    Netflix has a delightfully nasty thriller about this called “I Care A Lot.” Definitely worth checking out.

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  22. de stijl says:

    We Care A Lot by Faith No More.

    Shoutout to @JohnSF especially. Another interesting ’90s gem. FNM rocks!

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