Republican lawmakers Jim Jordan (OH) and Matt Gaetz (FL) are pushing Democrats to examine the issue of individual rights under conservatorships, citing pop music icon Britney Spears’ conservatorship as one high profile example.
Jordan and Gaetz have requested House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) to hold a hearing about the use of conservatorships that has galvanized attention to the “Free Britney” movement.
In a letter to Nadler, Jordan and Gaetz argue conservatorships can be used to “effectively deprive individuals of personal freedoms”:
The House Committee on the Judiciary is charged with safeguarding the rights afforded to Americans by the U.S. Constitution. These rights include having the free will to guide one’s own affairs and the legal autonomy over one’s own finances. When situations suggest the unjust deprivation of those rights by the government, we have an obligation to conduct oversight and explore potential remedies.
In recent years, there has been growing public concern about the use of conservatorships to effectively deprive individuals of personal freedoms at the behest of others through the manipulation of the courts. A project funded by the U.S. Department of Justice to examine conservator exploitation found that ‘financial exploitation by conservators often goes unchecked by courts’ and there is a ‘dire need for guardianship/conservatorship reform.’
Since 2008, Ms. Spears has been under a court-ordered conservatorship. The facts and circumstances giving rise to this arrangement remain in dispute but involve questionable motives and legal tactics by her father and now-conservator, Jamie Spears.
Jordan and Gaetz noted in court appearances in August and November 2020, Spears’ attorney told the court Spears, 39, “strongly opposed” having her father as a conservator, was afraid of her father, and would not again perform publicly so long as this arrangement persisted. Her father remains a conservator of her estate.
“Ms. Spears is not alone,” they wrote:
There are countless other Americans unjustly stripped of their freedoms by others with little recourse. For example, Long Island resident Daniel Gross was forced against his will into a conservatorship after being hospitalized with cellulitis while visiting his daughter in Connecticut. In what the judge labeled as ‘a terrible miscarriage of justice,’ Mr. Gross was locked in a Connecticut nursing home for 10 months despite his pleas for release.
“Given the constitutional freedoms at stake and opaqueness of these arrangements, it is incumbent upon our Committee to convene a hearing to examine whether Americans are trapped unjustly in conservatorships,” they said.
Spears’ father became co-conservator of his daughter’s $60 million estate in 2008. Spears’s attorney filed to remove him as conservator in August, but a judge ruled to keep her father as conservator and appointed Bessemer Trust as co-conservator.
Spears’s father swiftly responded in a statement to CNN through his attorney Vivian Lee Thoreen:
Jamie Spears has diligently and professionally carried out his duties as one of Britney’s conservators, and his love for his daughter and dedication to protecting her is clearly apparent to the court. Any time Britney wants to end her conservatorship, she can ask her lawyer to file a petition to terminate it; she has always had this right but in 13 years has never exercised it.
The next court date in the battle over the conservatorship is March 17.