More than 13 years after the life and finances of Britney Spears were put under the strict, court-approved control of her father, James P. Spears — and a month after Ms. Spears broke her public silence on the arrangement, calling it abusive and singling him out as its ultimate authority — a new lawyer for the singer has moved to have Mr. Spears removed from the unique conservatorship.
The detailed petition to oust the singer’s father from the complex legal setup was filed in Los Angeles probate court on Monday by Mathew S. Rosengart, a former federal prosecutor and high-powered Hollywood lawyer, who has worked with celebrities including Sean Penn, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Steven Spielberg.
The move, less than two weeks after Mr. Rosengart was approved as the singer’s lawyer, is framed as a first step in a broader strategy to examine the conservatorship, which the filing calls a “Kafkaesque nightmare” for Ms. Spears.
Mr. Rosengart took over as Ms. Spears’s lawyer after Samuel D. Ingham III, the court-appointed lawyer who had represented her for the duration of the arrangement, resigned in light of the singer’s recent comments about her care. In 2008, at the outset of the conservatorship, Ms. Spears had been found to lack the mental capacity to hire her own counsel.
In the filing Monday, Mr. Rosengart cited a section of the probate code that gives the court broad discretion to remove a conservator if it “is in the best interests” of the conservatee, and pointed to Ms. Spears’s recent comments in court as evidence that her father’s role was detrimental to her well-being.
The filing added that “serious questions abound concerning Mr. Spears’s potential misconduct, including conflicts of interest, conservatorship abuse and the evident dissipation of Ms. Spears’s fortune.”
“There might well come a time when the court will be called upon to consider whether the conservatorship should be terminated in its entirety and whether — in addition to stripping his daughter of her dignity, autonomy and certain fundamental liberties — Mr. Spears is also guilty of misfeasance or malfeasance warranting the imposition of surcharges, damages or other legal action against him,” Mr. Rosengart wrote.
Lawyers for Mr. Spears did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday. He has previously defended his care of, and concern for, his daughter.
In an additional filing, Mr. Rosengart requested that a certified public accountant in California, Jason Rubin, be named conservator of Ms. Spears’s estate, which was listed as including cash assets of $2.7 million and noncash assets of more than $57 million.
The lawyer noted, since the court had ruled recently that Ms. Spears had the capacity to choose her own lawyer, she “likewise has sufficient capacity to make this nomination.”
In his petition to remove Mr. Spears, Mr. Rosengart added: “Any father who genuinely loves his daughter and has her best interests at heart should willingly step aside in favor of the highly respected professional fiduciary nominated here.”
The petition was supported by Ms. Spears’s current personal conservator, Jodi Montgomery, as well as her mother, Lynne Spears, who said in the filing that her daughter’s relationship with her father had “dwindled to nothing but fear and hatred” because of his “microscopic control” over her life.
At an emotional hearing on June 23, Ms. Spears, 39, said she wished to end the conservatorship, which oversees both her personal care and estate, without having to undergo psychiatric evaluations; she added that she had not known that she could file to end it.
But Mr. Rosengart said in his petition on Monday that he was for now focusing on “the most pressing issue facing Ms. Spears: removing Mr. Spears as conservator of the estate.”
The next status hearing in the case is scheduled for Sept. 29.
Ms. Spears has long chafed at the conservatorship’s strictures behind the scenes, calling her father and his oversight over her life oppressive and controlling, according to confidential court records recently obtained by The New York Times. Ms. Spears also raised questions over the years about the fitness of her father — who has struggled with alcoholism and faced accusations of physical and verbal abuse — as conservator.
“Anything that happened to me had to be approved by my dad, and my dad only,” Ms. Spears said at the hearing, as she described being forced into a mental health facility after a disagreement at a concert rehearsal.
“I cried on the phone for an hour and he loved every minute of it,” she added. “The control he had over someone as powerful as me — he loved the control, to hurt his own daughter, one-hundred thousand percent.”
At the July 14 hearing where Mr. Rosengart was approved as Ms. Spears’s counsel, she stated, “I’m here to get rid of my dad.” Mr. Rosengart asked for Mr. Spears to resign on the spot; a lawyer for the singer’s father declined.
Mr. Spears, 69, has said instituting the conservatorship was necessary to save his daughter’s life and career during a period of concern about her mental health and substance abuse, and that he has acted out of love, working to protect her from exploitation.
Since 2008, Mr. Spears has overseen his daughter’s finances, sometimes with a professional co-conservator. He had also largely controlled Ms. Spears’s personal and medical care until a personal conservator, Ms. Montgomery, took over in September 2019 on an ongoing temporary basis.
Mr. Spears cited health reasons when he stepped down. But two weeks prior, there had been an alleged physical altercation between Mr. Spears and Ms. Spears’s 13-year-old son. No charges were filed in the incident, but the child’s father, Kevin Federline, was granted a restraining order barring Mr. Spears from seeing the children.
Lynne Spears said in the petition to remove Mr. Spears that the incident “understandably destroyed whatever was left of a relationship between” Ms. Spears and her father.
She added: “It is clear to me that James P. Spears is incapable of putting my daughter’s interests ahead of his own on both a professional and a personal level and that his being and remaining a conservator of my daughter’s estate is not in the best interests of my daughter.”
Conservatorships are typically reserved for people who cannot take care of themselves. Ms. Spears’s case has received scrutiny in recent years because she continued to perform as a pop star — and bring in millions of dollars — while under the arrangement.
“I shouldn’t be in a conservatorship if I can work,” Ms. Spears said at the June 23 hearing, while calling for its termination. “It makes no sense. The laws need to change.” She also requested that those behind the conservatorship be investigated for abuse.
Lawyers for Mr. Spears have called into question the actions of the others involved in Ms. Spears’s care. In a court filing after Ms. Spears’s remarks, which were broadcast in the courtroom and, as she insisted, to the public, Mr. Spears’s lawyers called for hearings to look into her claims.
“Either the allegations will be shown to be true, in which case corrective action must be taken, or they will be shown to be false, in which case the conservatorship can continue its course,” they wrote.
Mr. Spears’s lawyers also denied the characterization that he was responsible for the singer’s recent treatment, noting that Ms. Montgomery had been “fully in charge of Ms. Spears’s day-to-day personal care and medical treatment” for nearly two years, despite some of Ms. Spears’s claims predating Ms. Montgomery’s appointment.
“Mr. Spears is unable to hear and address his daughter’s concerns directly because he has been cut off from communicating with her,” Mr. Spears’s lawyers wrote last month, adding that he was “concerned about the management and care of his daughter.”
Lauriann Wright, a lawyer for Ms. Montgomery, said that Ms. Montgomery had “been a tireless advocate for Britney and for her well-being,” with “one primary goal — to assist and encourage Britney in her path to no longer needing a conservatorship of the person.”
In Ms. Spears’s speech to the court last month, she said she had been forced to perform, take medication and remain on birth control.
Following her remarks, the singer’s court-appointed lawyer, Bessemer Trust, the wealth-management firm that was set to take over as the co-conservator of Ms. Spears’s estate, requested to withdraw, in addition to Mr. Ingham. Outside of the conservatorship, Ms. Spears’s longtime manager, Larry Rudolph, also resigned, citing her stated intention to potentially retire.
Ms. Spears had expressed concerns about her father’s level of control over her for years as part of the court proceedings, which were largely sealed. In 2016, the probate investigator in the case concluded that the conservatorship remained in Ms. Spears’s best interests based on her complex finances, susceptibility to outside influence and “intermittent” drug issues, according to the report.
But the investigator’s report recommended over the longer term “a pathway to independence and the eventual termination of the conservatorship.”