By Marc Ang
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 11/14/21 – It was a huge day on Thursday when Britney Spears was freed from an almost 14 year conservatorship. Formally terminated by Judge Brenda J. Penny, the 39 year old Spears is now able to live freely as she clocks in the 5th decade of her life on December 2nd, her 40th birthday.
This is the third of my interviews with celebrity lawyer and commentator Aron Solomon. Aron says this has been something that he has been predicting for a while.
“I think a lot of people felt that the process would unfold slower than it did. But from the time summer rolled around, Britney spoke out for herself, and Judge Penny started to get the wheels of justice in motion, it was clear that once Britney was given the truly exceptional opportunity as a conservatee to hire her own lawyer, Matthew Rosengart, that we would end up here sooner rather than later.
So once the November hearing was set, I really felt strongly that that would be the end of the conservatorship that never should have been put in place 13 years ago. Nonetheless, the conservatorship is over. And there’ll be probably two more meetings to unpack certain legal things that need to be unpacked, one is set for December, and the other one is set for January. But for all intents and purposes, as #FreeBritney has worked and she’s been freed.”
So how much do you think that the public’s support and rallying around her has helped? Or was that moot when it comes to all the legal unfoldings of the events that took place?
It’s a question that I get asked a lot. And I always hate the answer that I have to give: I don’t think it mattered one way or the other. I think it was great that the public got excited, not just in Los Angeles, and not just across the nation, but truly around the world. In fact, I gave an interview for the state radio station throughout Germany. I used to live in Berlin. And there’s so many Britney fans in Germany, and everybody wants to know what would happen on Thursday. Britney fans all over the world were united in the free Britney movement.
But from a legal perspective, Judge Brenda Penny was set on the California Probate Code, which is what determines what can happen in a conservatorship. And with the evidence that she was presented, she realized that Britney at this point in her life, does not need to be under conservatorship, and with the help of excellent counsel (that she was finally after 13 years allowed to hire for herself – something that conservatees did not have the right to do)
I really don’t think in the long run, that all of the support behind Britney helped, maybe it did in a cosmic way. But in a legal way, it didn’t really matter one way or the other, the judge did what the judge needed to do.”
Let’s drill down on the actual pieces of evidence that was presented to the court that ultimately swayed Judge Penny to rule the way she did?
Britney was capable of taking care of herself. There were so many things that were happening back in 2007/2008, that it was understandable that Britney got caught in a maelstrom of her own creation. Her father and her mother helped create this as well. This is what happens when the conservatorship took place.
One of the things that Britney said very clearly during the summer is that she was not going to undergo what she felt was the further abuse of any psychological examination. I thought that in long run that position could hurt her because the court might look for more evidence that Britney wasn’t capable of taking care of herself.
But if we look at what Britney’s done in this 13-year conservatorship, the fact that she’s been able to go out on the road, have very successful financial tours where she’s earned millions of dollars – it’s something that people generally who are conservatees aren’t able to do. So her lawyer put forth evidence that she didn’t need to be under conservatorship.
That’s on the one hand, and then on the other hand, we have all the ongoing things that he put forward about potential conservatorship abuses by her father and others. And that’s part of what’s going to get unpacked over the next couple of months.”
Was there anything unpacked this last date on Thursday? What would we expect in the next two hearings that you had mentioned?
So we’ve seen two excellent documentaries, the New York Times documentary, and then the Netflix that followed three days later. They did a pretty good job at setting out a laundry list of conservatorship abuses. And these are things the court is going to look at.
Now, I’m one who is a proponent of Spears vs Spears. I think that Jamie Spears is going to find himself in a different type of court of law, looking at both the civil case that Britney could bring, and perhaps a criminal case for both his acts and omissions as conservator in this case.
One of the things that I’ve said all along about a potential lawsuit against Jamie Spears, by Britney, is that I believe that today Jamie Spears is “judgment-proof”. Even if Britney were to work with a civil case against her father for conservatorship abuse where she was trying to get money back, he’s judgment proof.
I actually always love to tell the story of this lawyer that I knew who liked to brag that he was judgment proof, because he had all of his assets in his wife’s name. And because this guy was pretty much a thief, he was able to do bad acts, people could sue him, but never collect because there were never any assets that he had.
And I think that Jamie Spears has probably put himself in the exact same situation. So if a civil suit against her father would help give Britney Spears the peace of mind that she’s looking for, then perhaps her lawyer would advisor that that’s something that she should proceed with. Otherwise, maybe she shouldn’t.
So this is would be a psychological win for her rather than getting some of those assets back is what you’re saying?
I think the assets are probably long gone. But again, that doesn’t mean that the state of California can’t bring criminal charges against Jamie Spears or Tristar or potentially even against Lynn Spears or anybody else who was involved in illegal conservatorship abuse.
And that’s something that needs to be unpacked over the next weeks and months while Britney is allowed to go on and live her life.
Do you think that if there were charges brought to Jamie for the financial abuses, along with the rulings of this case and in conjunction with the governor signing a new law, this would change conservatorships law forever? Where now conservators are even more scrutinized, and it would prevent this type of future and potential abuse from occurring?
Again, I agree with everything you’re saying. Britney is absolutely a hero in conservatorship law. It’s funny, a great parallel has to be “Legally Blonde”. When we think about Elle Woods and everything she did: going from California, to become this great fictitious lawyer in movies – Britney, without legal education and without a law degree has done a lot to help conservatees all over the nation.
As you mentioned, one of the things that Brittany’s case has brought is a lot of awareness to conservatorship abuse, which is why Governor Newsom signed into law which becomes effective January 1, a fairly broad conservatorship reform.
One of the most important parts of this in California is that conservators such as Jamie Spears who don’t come from a financial background (meaning he’s not a Chartered Professional Accountant) will have to undergo training to become a conservator so they can understand the financial ins-and-outs of conservatorship law, what they’re allowed to do and what they’re not allowed to do, as well as understand exactly what he did, which was conservatorship fraud.
While this has been desperately traumatic for Britney over the past 13 years, the impact that she’s had on conservatorship law is going to be very positive.
Yeah, and we had talked about this last time where you think that other states will follow suit.
This will basically be a case that will set a precedent for monumental change for other states.
California is such an important state when it comes to the probate code. When it comes to conservatorship law, it’s not just the high-profile celebrity conservatorship cases. California is a large state. And there have been a large number of conservatorships over the years. California leads, which was Governor Newsom’s intent in signing this law, that others will follow.
What is its long term impact?
Its long term impact upon Britney as a person remains to be seen, as her lawyer said yesterday. When he was asked, “Is Britney going to go on tour?” the correct answer, which she gave us is “if she wants to”. We know that Britney’s tours are going to be worth tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars. And if that’s what she would like to do with her life moving forward, then more power to her.
But more importantly, her conservatorship was very impactful on herself and others. So she can decide if she wants to remain a conservatorship activist, as she has been. We think about people like Colin Kaepernick, and the amazing careers that they’ve had after their profession that they chose, she could do something similar. Nothing precludes her from doing both. So I think that the Britney Spears chapter is going to be very well looked upon by history. And she’s going to have the opportunity now to do anything she wants to do.
What do you think she’ll do?
I think she’s a smart woman. And I think that she may feel a debt to her fans. One of the greatest ways to repay that cosmic debt is to travel around the world and give her fans what they love: which is to see her perform at the highest level. She is a savvy business person and may realize that she could do one more tour. If she’s not already set for life, she would certainly be set for life, as her children will be after that. So it’s really up to her.
But I think that she’s someone who has enjoyed the thrill of performance (when it’s been something that she’s had control over and she’s been doing for the right reasons). Even though she might have felt that she’s was forced to tour over the past 13 years, she really does have control over her art and over her business now.
When she was under conservatorship, her dad was controlling over her dating life. I think that’s one of the reasons that the public got involved in this – it’s like, wow, she’s a grown woman, almost 40 years old, and the father was trying to control that aspect of life.
So one of the things that these two excellent documentaries showed us is that in real time, the men in Britney’s life always had a bad reputation. People feared that her boyfriends, were the people taking advantage of her. But the reality was, it was her own father. So I think this has taught us a lot about the way we perceive the lives of celebrities.
All we can do is assume that Britney knows what’s good for her. And if she’s engaged to this guy, maybe he’s a great guy, and he’s really good for her and hopefully it all works out.
Again, the other side of the coin are people who feel that Britney should be under conservatorship and is not able to make her own decisions. Clearly that is the minority of people now, rather than the vast majority of people as it was years ago, who felt the conservatorship was something good for somebody in her position.
Let her live her life, let her choose to be with who she wants to be with and let her choose to do what she wants to do for work if she wants to do anything at all.
How do you think the overall perceptions of mental health has changed in the last 13 years?
I think that our perception and conception of mental health is far more nuanced than it used to be. We can think about famous athletes, for example, the kind of troubles Naomi Osaka is going through now, in deciding when she’s ready to play again and whether she wants to play again because, she just wasn’t in a mental state to be able to move forward.
We see this a lot more in the public eye than we used to, because mental health was always seen as a sign of weakness in the past. Britney Spears has brought a lot of positive evidence to show that it’s okay to not always be well, and to have people around them to try to figure things out.
The end result shouldn’t be something like a conservatorship where you’re living your life against your will. I think that it’s far more open with more discussions than there were 15 years ago. But Britney is probably only one road marker on the way to where we need to get to.
Do you think that that with this ruling and case, that in the future, we may see conservatorships as more temporary? And conservatees will be able to get out of them easier?
Yes. That’s part of the coming California reforms. It’s a critically important reform – traditionally, conservatees didn’t have the right to have the conservatorship examined during set periods of time. The only reason that Britney was able to do so was because she was Britney Spears, who could command the public spotlight.
But within the California conservatorship reform, it’s going to be built in that the conservatorship can be looked at. And then you might have a case like Britney Spears, where someone argues this person should no longer be under conservatorship.
As we’ve talked about before, there have been other famous celebrity conservatorships, where even the celebrity has said, “I feel like I need to be a conservatee at this point”. And then there’s a point where you don’t need to be.
So it should not be this permanent, life in prison sentence. I just hope that the average person, not someone with her celebrity status or money is able to be in a good situation and not end up a prisoner to a family member or conservator that may not have their best intentions at heart.
There was a lot of money at stake. And one of the things that we saw with these kinds of street celebrations was a lot of other people coming out and talking about their own experiences in conservatorship.
I remember watching one from this week’s hearing, where a woman from New York was talking about how her father had his cats taken away when he was under conservatorship against his will. And he basically had no opportunity to have any private meetings with his children.
So conservatorship, when it kind of ends up running away from itself, can be a destructive thing for everybody involved.
Wise words, Aaron, and I want to thank you for the series of interviews we’ve done to explore and unpack what has been going on with the #FreeBritney developments. I wanted to end by asking you what inspired you about this case and your deep level of research?
It’s because these things usually end really badly. I had a sense from the beginning, that Britney Spears had kind of the strength and depth of spirit, even though I didn’t always agree with all the decisions she was making. She stuck out to me as being able to get over this and to be able to set an example for herself and for others.
Usually, when we see celebrities like this in the public spotlight, whether it’s conservatorship or something else, it becomes a really bad made-for-TV movie, where there’s tragedy involved.
Britney was able to turn this around for herself and others, which made it an interesting case from the perspective of looking at a person who was a celebrity. But the legal issues here were always interested me, because this case for the past 13 years, did not function as a conservatorship was designed to function.
Yes, and that was the practical reality. And now it’s become an American story of resilience.