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Britney Spears Called 911 to Report Conservatorship Abuse on Eve of Public Testimony

The New Yorker has published an extensive new investigation into Spears' conservatorship battle

Britney Spears
Britney Spears, photo by VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images
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    The New Yorker has published an extensive new investigation into Britney Spears‘ ongoing conservatorship battle. Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ronan Farrow and Jia Tolentino, the piece sheds new light on the circumstances leading to the court-appointed conservatorship, Britney’s medical treatment and state of mind, and the pop star’s multi-year quest to end it.

    Notably, on the eve of last month’s hearing, Farrow and Tolentino report that Britney called 911 to report herself as a victim of conservatorship abuse. After learning of the call, members of Britney’s team reportedly began “texting one another frantically… worried about what Spears might say the next day, and they discussed how to prepare in the event that she went rogue.”

    The next day Britney did in fact go “rogue” — despite the best efforts of an attorney for the conservatorship, who asked the courtroom to seal the transcript of her testimony. Britney objected the request, telling Judge Brenda Penny, “Somebody’s done a good job at exploiting my life. I feel like it should be an open-court hearing—they should listen and hear what I have to say.” She then proceeded to speak publicly for the first time about what she described as an “abusive” conservatorship, vividly illustrating restrictions placed on her, including being barred from marriage and forced to continue using an IUD despite her desire to have more children. She also said she’d been put on lithium against her wishes after refusing to perform at a concert.

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    Farrow and Tolentino also provide an extensive account of the circumstances leading to the conservatorship being placed on her in February 2008. Friends of the singer believe her erratic behavior in the months leading up to her public breakdown was the result of untreated postpartum depression. Robin Johnson, a court-ordered monitor who saw Britney four times a week in late 2007, told The New Yorker, “None of this was her fault… There were so many people involved in her life that caused all of this craziness with her. I don’t have anything derogatory to say about her. . . . It was probably one of the saddest cases that I’ve ever done in my entire life.”

    After being placed on an emergency psychiatric hold for a second time in early 2008, Britney’s father, Jamie, requested and was quickly granted a conservatorship over his daughter. Jacqueline Butcher, a close friend of the Spears family, said the conservatorship was placed on Britney “without ever talking to her. “Whatever they claim about any input she had behind the scenes, how could you have assessed her then?  Butcher added, noting that Britney was in the hospital at the time of the hearing. “Shouldn’t you wait a week, then interview her? She never had a chance.” (California law requires that conservatees be given five days’ notice before a conservatorship takes effect, but this policy can be bypassed if a judge decides that they could suffer immediate and substantial harm.”)

    Britney’s mother, Lynne, who is separated from Jamie, initially felt that being named as a co-conservator was unnecessary believing that the conservatorship would only remain in effect for a few months. But when Lynne expressed reservations about Britney’s treatment, Farrow and Tolentino say she was shouted down by Jamie:

    “Lynne began talking about her hopes for how the conservatorship would be managed, prompting Jamie to shout about his control over his daughter’s life, including Lynne’s access to her. At one point, Butcher recalled him bellowing, ‘I am Britney Spears!’ It was a refrain she would hear him repeat often during the early years of the conservatorship, she said. Lynne, as Butcher remembered it, grew quiet.”

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    Farrow and Tolentino go on to document in immense detail the behind-the-scenes legal battle over the conservatorship, including Britney being ruled incapable of retaining her own attorney and the belief among her friends that her court-appointed lawyer Sam Ingham is loyal to the conservatorship and Jamie.

    The New York also highlights, citing first-hand accounts provided by Butcher, several incidents in which Jamie mentally abused Britney:

    Butcher remembers sitting in Spears’s home office on one of the first days after she was released from the hospital. Butcher, Lynne, and Spears were on the floor, Spears on her knees; Jamie was sitting at a desk. A flat-screen TV was playing nearby. “Jamie said, ‘Baby,’ ” Butcher recalled, “and I thought he was going to say, ‘We love you, but you need help.’ But what he said was ‘You’re fat. Daddy’s gonna get you on a diet and a trainer, and you’re gonna get back in shape.’ ” Butcher felt sick. Jamie pointed at the TV and said, “You see that TV over there? You know what it’s going to say in eight weeks? That’s gonna be you on there, and they’re gonna say, ‘She’s back.’ ”

    In the following weeks, Jamie wore Spears down. “He would get all in her face—spittle was flying—telling her she was a whore and a terrible mother,” Butcher said. Spears was told that she could see her kids again only if she coöperated. “Lynne was just, like, ‘Obey Daddy and they’ll let you out,’ ” Butcher added. Spears behaved, and regained limited access to her children. But Jamie got rid of anyone his daughter had been close to. The housekeeper who worked for Spears during the custody dispute remembers being let go at this time. “Anyone that works for her from now on goes through me,” Jamie told her.

    One of Britney’s friends, concerned for her well-being, delivered a secret letter on her behalf to an attorney. (When this was discovered, he was prevented from seeing Spears again.) Another friend snuck a cell phone to her so she could contact a lawyer. (The phone was later confiscated.)

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    All the while, Jamie is fighting back against Britney’s attempts to end the conservatorship — and using his daughter’s own money to pay the legal bills. (Recent court documents show that Jamie’s lawyers billed nearly nine hundred thousand dollars for four months of work, from October, 2020, to February, 2021, according to  the New Yorker.)

    In a dramatic move last month, Britney chose to publicly testify for the first time about the conservatorship and expressed her desire for it to end. Yet, just days later, Judge Penny declined a request made by Ingham to remove Jamie as her sole conservator. Further hearings are expected in the near future, but defenders of her conservatorship say her claims will be undermined as more evidence is presented.

    You can read the full New Yorker piece here.

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