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LOS ANGELES — Britney Spears was granted a request to hire her own attorney Wednesday, a development that could mark a major shift in how her 13-year conservatorship case has been handled.
The scheduled court hearing was forced to address the sudden departure of her court-appointed attorney, Samuel D. Ingham III, who has handled her case since 2008. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny approved Ingham’s resignation and his replacement with Britney Spears’ chosen attorney, former federal prosecutor Mathew Rosengart.
Britney Spears broke down in tears during Wednesday's hearing, explaining to the judge that she was “extremely scared” of her father, James “Jamie” Spears, and that she is not willing to be evaluated in order to remove him.
Britney Spears said her issues with her father went back years, from when her parents left her alone in their trailer multiple times a week. She said she used to fear that Jamie Spears would "show up drunk and embarrass her," referencing her father's past issues with alcoholism.
“I’m here to get rid of my dad and charge him with conservatorship abuse,” she said. Later she added that she wanted him investigated and that “this conservatorship has allowed my dad to ruin my life.”
She told the court that every part of her life has been controlled, down to her diet, and that she worked 70 hours a week.
"Their goal was to make me feel crazy, and I'm not," she said. "And that's not OK."
Rosengart briefly addressed the court Wednesday, telling the judge that although he's coming in late to the case it was clear that "this isn't working." He intends to file a petition to the court soon and that the goal should be to end the conservatorship, he said.
The singer's new attorney also called on Jamie Spears to remove himself from his daughter's case.
“If he loves his daughter, it is time to step aside — to move forward," Rosengart said.
After court Wednesday, Britney Spears posted a video on Instagram of her doing cartwheels and riding a horse, saying that she was celebrating "real representation today." Her caption included a middle finger emoji and #FreeBritney.
"I feel GRATITUDE and BLESSED !!!! Thank you to my fans who are supporting me," she wrote. "You have no idea what it means to me be supported by such awesome fans !!!! God bless you all !!!!!"
Britney Spears asked the court last month for the right to choose her own counsel, alleging that she was not made aware of her right to terminate the conservatorship and that she felt silenced by Ingham.
"My lawyer, Sam, has been very scared for me to go forward, because he's saying if I speak up, I'm being overworked. ... He told me I should keep it to myself," Spears said in court June 23. She said that even though she has built a relationship with Ingham, she would like "to actually handpick my own lawyer by myself."
Ingham filed his resignation with the court two weeks later, saying he would step down as soon as the court saw fit to replace him.
Britney Spears made it clear last month that she wants to and regain her independence, and getting a new attorney might be the first step. She has also asked for more power in her case in the meantime, wanting more say in her medical care and the freedom to complete her therapy from her home.
Vivian Thoreen, attorney for Jamie Spears, told the judge Wednesday that there were a number of "misstatements" made in Britney Spears' June 23 testimony. Thoreen questioned whether Britney Spears was fully aware of her rights to make medical decisions as "no such order" exists in the terms of the conservatorship.
Britney Spears' belief that her father is to blame for all her concerns is "simply not true" and there is no basis for Jamie Spears to step down from her case, Thoreen added.
Jamie Spears' legal team previously filed a request with the court to investigate the pop star's allegations, which include the fact that her conservators will not allow her to remove her intrauterine device so that she might have more children.
Her desire to have her own attorney was supported by both her mother, Lynne Spears, and Montgomery. A motion filed on behalf of Lynne Spears asked the court to allow her daughter to hire her own attorney, saying she is well enough to take care of herself.
"Her capacity is certainly different today than it was in 2008, and Conservatee should no longer be held to the 2008 standard,'" Lynne Spears' motion said.
Montgomery, who has been Spears' conservator-of-the-person since 2019, filed a separate support motion suggesting that the court compromise by assigning her a temporary guardian ad litem to help her select an attorney.
The filing also revealed that Montgomery has had multiple conversations with Spears about her request to retain her own attorney. It included screenshots of what appear to be redacted text messages between her and Spears, although the contact at the top of the messages is referred to as "Jane Doe."
"Getting you a new attorney, by filing with the court is the best legal approach," one of Montgomery's messages said. "Your dad has excellent attorneys. and you should too."
A message purported to be from Spears read: "I need u to stay as my co conservator of person. I'm asking u for ur assistance in getting a new attorney."
The American Civil Liberties Union requested the right to address the court Wednesday in an amicus brief filed Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court. Along with about two dozen mental health and disability rights organizations, the ACLU argued that the ability to hire her own counsel is Spears' constitutional right.
Fans have latched on to Spears' case, starting a #FreeBritney campaign to end the conservatorship. Those who started the movement have expressed concerns that Jamie Spears has abused what was meant to be a temporary arrangement for his personal gain.
#FreeBritney fans rallied outside the hearing, and their cheers and chants could be heard inside the halls of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse on Wednesday. Dana Jones, 36, said she and a group of others flew in from the San Francisco-area to be at the hearing.
Though she doesn't identify as a "super" fan, last month's testimony inspired her to join the movement.
“We’ve been fans our whole life," Jones said. "We flew down from San Francisco, the Bay Area, just to be here, to be part of it. And we hoped we could get in — couldn’t believe that we got in."
Jamie Spears and his team have vehemently denied accusations that he has abused his position, repeatedly saying he only has his daughter's best interests at heart. He has been assigned as his daughter's conservator since 2008, shortly after she had a public breakdown. He was temporarily made the sole executor of her estate in 2019 after his co-conservator, Andrew Wallet, resigned.
A year after Wallet resigned, Ingham filed a petition on behalf of Britney Spears to have her father removed. Ingham said Spears was afraid of her father and would rather have a professional handle her case.
The judge denied the request but did assign a financial institution, Bessemer Trust, to be Jamie Spears' co-conservator. Spears was also assigned a conservator-of-the-person, Montgomery, who handles her nonfinancial needs.
Bessemer Trust filed its resignation with the court after Spears' testimony last month, saying it entered into the conservatorship under the impression that she wanted to be in it and has since learned otherwise.