Free Britney

Jul 13, 2021

What is a conservatorship? Britney Spears’ conservatorship has now lasted over 13 years and, even though social media and fans are on the #freebritney movement, what does the law say? Tosha Rae Heavican is an expert in conservatorships and guardianships for Hightower Reff Law, and she joins Tracy for this special #freebritney episode!


Tracy Hightower-Henne: On today’s podcast, we’re talking about Britney Spears, and today I have Tosha Heavican here with us to talk about that because this is really Tasha’s expertise area of the law when we think about conservatorships and guardianships. So I think it’s fair to say that we are all on the side of the FreeBritney movement.

Tosha Rae Heavican: Yeah, I think that’s fair to say. It’s what would be interesting and what we really don’t have the benefit of is a lot of the proceedings that have happened with her have been sealed. So there’s a lot of questions that aren’t answered because there isn’t access to the information. You know, most of the time, like, for example, in Nebraska, guardianship and conservatorship actions are public record, so you can go to the courthouse and get copies of pleadings and other documents. Typically, medical evidence is usually sealed, but the basic pleadings that are filed are public record.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: All right, so most listeners know who Britney Spears is, but like, let’s describe Britney Spears the way we know Britney, right?

Tosha Rae Heavican: So she became super popular when I was in, like junior high. Maybe I’m trying to think of what year I mean, I graduated high school in two thousand three late nineties. She was super popular. She kind of came up in that Mickey Mouse clubhouse, right? Because you had Justin Timberlake and her and Christina Aguilera, and they were kind of like this trio of young singers that were coming of age at that time.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: That’s right, I I always forget that she came from the Mickey Mouse Club. I was not a Mickey Mouse Club watcher.

Tosha Rae Heavican: Me, either. The first really thing that I remember about Britney Spears was the super risque music video that she came out with, where she was wearing the little Catholic schoolgirl outfit. And she had pigtails and her song was like, Hey,

Tracy Hightower-Henne: That was that hit me, baby one more time. Yes, yeah. So, all right, so Britney Spears is the super pop sensation, and at some point she became huge, right?

Tosha Rae Heavican: Like, yes, extremely big.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Extremely big. And so now what’s happening with Britney? Like, what? Where is she at in the legal world?

Tosha Rae Heavican: So in two thousand eight, so right around that time, people may remember Britney kind of had this public unraveling a little bit. And of course, all we know is what’s in the tabloids, right? And there’s always eight sides to every story. But the the stuff that was reported, if you remember, there was something about her hitting a paparazzi vehicle with an umbrella, and then she had an instance where she had one of her children and she had holed herself up in a bathroom and then she shaved her head. And those may be in a different order, but she had kind of this series of unraveling. And then when you look at some of the news stories that came out around that time and even now, there was a concern by her family that she was being financially and mentally and maybe even emotionally exploited by people in her life, like a new agent she had hired and a boyfriend and some stuff like that. And so in about two thousand eight, her family decides we’re going to move for conservatorship in California.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: And so super disclaimer we are not lawyers in California. And also we don’t know every single fact in the Britney Spears case, but we’re bringing bringing to you what we know, right?

Tosha Rae Heavican: Right. As I said, a lot of the documents are sealed and you know, and some of the laws and terminology and procedures and practices are going to be different from state to state because the conservatorships and guardianships are largely going to be state actions and state statutes that apply. So things could apply differently in California than they do. For example, here in Nebraska

Tracy Hightower-Henne: And guardianship conservatorship cases are not super atypical, right? They’re happening all the time. This isn’t super unique that Britney Spears. It’s not like she’s the only person in the world that has a conservatorship, right?

Tosha Rae Heavican: That’s an extremely fair statement. There are tons and tons of guardianships that are and conservatorship that are set up. I should have looked in Nebraska. I know the number, I think, would surprise you how many people are under guardianship or conservatorship, even just within the state.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: So tell us about guardianship in general. How does someone become a guardian or get under a guardianship?

Tosha Rae Heavican: So you kind of have two categories of people that would need a guardian or conservator? The first one, and maybe the more easy one for people to define and understand is going to be if, if a child. Means a guardian or conservator, so in Nebraska, a person is a child until they turn 19. So from up until the time they turn 19, some

Tracy Hightower-Henne: People are children until they’re like thirty. But yes, that’s true. That’s true.

Tosha Rae Heavican: Legally, you are not an adult until you are 19. And so and up until the age of 19, normally your biological parents are considered your natural guardians, so your natural guardian doesn’t need a court order to make decisions for you because by law and constitutionally, a parent has a right to parent their child. But a situation may emerge where a parent is either deceased or if a parent is suffering from some sort of issue, for example, substance abuse where they’re not able to parent, then another person can step in and serve as the guardian for the kids. While mom and dad get better is kind of the thought. So in that situation, parental rights are not terminated. The the terminology is that they’re suspended due to circumstance. And so the idea being we’re going to kind of take the kids away and help you raise them while you get better. And then when you’re better, we’re going to give them back.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: So tell us about when an adult might need a conservator like Britney.

Tosha Rae Heavican: So in at least in Nebraska, the way it works, if you have a person who is above the age of 19 and you are asserting that they need a guardian or conservator, you’re telling a judge that this person cannot manage their assets or they can’t manage their decisions for themselves and that they are at risk. So in a conservatorship, which in Nebraska typically deals with assets or money, the court is going to in order for a conservatorship to be set up. The judge has to look at and make a finding that that person can’t manage their own property. And some of the reasons why a judge would say they can’t do it is because they are suffering from mental illness, a mental deficiency, physical illness, chronic use of drugs and chronic use of alcohol. Or they have maybe they are in jail or detained. And the risk is that because of their situation, their property or assets may be wasted or taken advantage of. And so the court is going to institute what’s called a protective proceeding to help make sure that person doesn’t lose all their assets or be taken advantage of in a guardianship. That’s typically one where you’re talking about decisions that are being made about the body, for example, where you live or your health care decisions, or if you need help with getting education and basically in a guardianship action, the court’s job is to see or to make a finding that the person is incapacitated and they need help in these areas. And what’s interesting, and I think one of the main things that is troublesome in Britney’s case is that in guardianship and conservatorship actions, typically you want to institute the least restrictive means in a case. So maybe Britney doesn’t need help in every aspect of her life. Maybe she only needs help in a few. But the case seems to be, you know, a prevailing power over her where every decision is made by a surrogate decision maker.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: At least what we see in the news, right? Exactly. Yeah, there’s some claims that she’s making that she’s not able to get married, that she is being forced to have birth control, that she doesn’t want. And so isn’t it true in California? They’re calling it the conservator of the body? Correct. And so in the terms that we have in Nebraska, that’s the same as the guardianship

Tosha Rae Heavican: That’s based on the readings that I’ve done. That’s kind of what I would equate it to is that so Britney has a conservator co-conspirators, which are her dad, Jamie Spears. And then the court recently in Twenty Nineteen appointed a company called Bessemer Trust. And so those two entities are supposed to be managing her financial side of her life.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: But previously she had a co conservator and his last name was wallet. Yes, like literally the thing in your back pocket? Yes, that’s fascinating.

Tosha Rae Heavican: Yeah. And and probably somewhat ironic considering that Britney is paying for all of these guardians, conservators, attorneys for guardians and conservators. So, you know, especially in her particular case, it’s become a very expensive endeavor

Tracy Hightower-Henne: For her own

Tosha Rae Heavican: Attorney, correct, and her own attorney as well. So she has a court appointed attorney that’s being paid, although I think in the news I saw recently that he has since asked to step down because of some allegations that Britney is making, that she was not advised correctly

Tracy Hightower-Henne: As there goes. Is five hundred and forty thousand dollars a year salary.

Tosha Rae Heavican: Correct. Correct. So in the twenty nineteen proceedings, the court, the judge also in Britney’s case, appointed a conservator of the body or what I would consider to be a guardian. And so that person, a woman by the name of Jodi Montgomery from what I’m reading. And so she’s supposed to be helping Britney make decisions about health care and where she lives and that sort of thing. And recently, there was an article that came out where she’s she’s being attacked by Jamie Spears, the financial conservator about things that Britney is making claims about in regards to what you were saying with with birth control and and being married and that sort of thing. And the co-conservator Jodi Montgomery has come out and said, I absolutely 100 percent support Britney and I’ve come up with a care plan that’s supposedly she’s going to be presenting to the court. And I think that’s kind of the last thing that I had read in the news.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Ok, so Britney, in her lifetime has made millions and millions of dollars, if not billions and maybe trillions. Lots of zeros, right? Yes. Who’s getting her money? What’s happening with her money right now?

Tosha Rae Heavican: All the people,

Tracy Hightower-Henne: All the people. I’m not getting anything.

Tosha Rae Heavican: Me either. I feel like I missed a

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Boat on that one, but I would have freed Britney a long time ago, and she can have all of her money,

Tosha Rae Heavican: Right? Yes. All joking aside, I think in the news articles and stuff that I’m reading, she is paying. So, for example, her court appointed attorney who now, as we’ve discussed, potentially is resigning. I believe his salary, according to news articles, is five hundred and forty thousand dollars a year.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: I calculated that I had to use a calculator. It’s about twelve hundred dollars a day.

Tosha Rae Heavican: Twelve hundred dollars a day to be Britney Spears court appointed attorney.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: What do you think that was like when you get this letter in the mail like you’ve been court appointed to represent Britney Spears?

Tosha Rae Heavican: I feel like you would. I mean, it depends if you’re a fan or not, but you might have a little bit of a fan girl moment, right? You get to meet Britney Spears.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Feel like this guy was not a fan?

Tosha Rae Heavican: Probably not. Probably. Well, and the allegations that she’s making is that he didn’t do a very good job representing her and that he has been sort of pro conservatorship this whole time. What’s interesting is that there’s been a lot of talk about her representation and making allegations that she’s not able to to contract in order to hire her own lawyer. So in Nebraska, there are statutes in the guardianship and conservatorship acts that specifically provide that a person who would be put under guardianship or conservatorship has a right to have their own attorney that they choose to hire. And it makes sense because large in part, typically the person who’s being put under a guardianship or conservatorship has to pay attorney fees and and attorneys can apply for fees to be paid out of that person’s money because purportedly the proceedings are for the benefit of that person, so they should be paid by that person. So you’ve got Britney paying her own lawyer and then you have her dad and the trust company who are saying, Well, we’re providing all of these amazing services for you to keep you protected, so you should pay our fees too.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: And so her dad’s making money?

Tosha Rae Heavican: Yes.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: What’s he making?

Tosha Rae Heavican: I think he makes like a percentage of all the contracts that he signs for her. I don’t know the figures. Have you seen any

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Numbers he’s making like sixteen thousand a month in a salary and then he’s also paying some rent space in order to be a guardian?

Tosha Rae Heavican: That seems a little overkill.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: So her money is sort of just being dissipated in all these different areas, and it sounds like her mom’s making money off of this. What are these people even doing,

Tosha Rae Heavican: Supposedly providing management? I think the last thing I saw, too in terms of her family, I think her brother and her sister also work for her in some capacity, so they are paid as well. And one of the articles I read recently talked about how she had a house cleaner that she had had for a really long time and supposedly the house cleaner helped Britney get a cell phone so that she could call someone because she’s not allowed to have a cell phone, supposedly. And the allegation is that the dad found out about it and fired the the house cleaner, the house cleaner. So she’s not allowed to hire the people that do things for her in her life. Those all have to be vetted through the conservator who’s in charge of the money because that is the person or entity who spends the money.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: So as far as we know, Britney does not have her own phone because her dad’s not paying for one for her. And I know you’re not on Instagram, which I love to scroll through Instagram and like anytime Britney posts something on Instagram, it’s like this huge deal and they’re like forty thousand comments and things, and they are a little interesting. And it is really interesting that, you know, Britney’s posting these things with some subtext, you know, some like people are trying to decipher, Britney, what are you saying? And that’s what the comments mostly are. You know, she’s she goes through some phases where she posts things with a bunch of red things going on in the post. And I think everyone’s just trying to decipher like what is going on with Britney Spears and why can’t she just make her own decisions? So what’s happening with, you know, like what recently is happening with the case and what do we know going forward?

Tosha Rae Heavican: So in terms of what we know now, as recently as the I believe the last week of June, there was a court hearing and Britney actually was able to speak to the judge. I got the impression that that hadn’t happened in some time where she made some allegations against her father and the conservatorship and and even her own attorney and is asking the court to to get rid of the proceedings basically is the gist of what I understood her request to the court. And ultimately, the judge entered an order keeping the conservatorship in place without prejudice, which means that the judge is still open to considering future petitions or court requests to stop the conservatorship. But for now, the judge thinks that it needs to be in place. And you know, to be fair and play devil’s advocate a little bit, you know, we don’t know all the facts, we don’t know all of the evidence that’s being provided. It’s very possible that the court is receiving medical evidence that is compelling in the sense that Britney does need help in some areas of her life. And so that’s really what the judge in a guardianship and conservatorship case is weighing. They’re weighing the evidence that is brought to say that this person needs help against this person’s right constitutional right to make decisions for themselves. I mean, it’s it’s so true. Nobody’s perfect, right? We’ve all done dumb things. We’ve all made mistakes. Unfortunately for Britney, hers are on, you know, a mass scale in terms of publicity, right? Everybody gets to learn about all of her screw ups. But does that necessarily mean that she should be under a conservatorship just because she shaved her head, right?

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Clearly, the judge thinks so at this point, and things could happen in the case continuously that at this point we don’t know there could be an appeal. There could be further motions filed, but definitely the social media community thinks Britney should be freed, right?

Tosha Rae Heavican: They certainly do. They very much rallied around her.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: So Hulu’s documentary recently was fascinating. And I will tell you, I’m going to be totally honest in that moment where she takes the umbrella out and is, you know, hitting the window, though at least the way they showed it in the documentary and the buildup to that moment, I was like, Heck yeah, I would have done the same thing. Give me that umbrella, right? I mean, the way the paparazzi was pushing her and pushing her and also like, who cares if someone shaves her head, like, shave your head? That doesn’t always indicate some level of a need for someone to take over the care of yourself. But I think that documentary did a really good job of kind of showing a history of maybe that point where there were some questionable things that Britney Britney Spears was doing right.

Tosha Rae Heavican: And I think also the other point, at least, that’s made on the side of the conservatorship, folks, is that there was a large concern that she was being taken advantage of. Now, I think. Somebody could say from the outside that it may appear that her family is doing the same thing.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yeah, how much is she getting in in an allowance now?

Tosha Rae Heavican: I think I read in a news article she gets two thousand dollars a week.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: That sounds to me like she’s being taken advantage of.

Tosha Rae Heavican: Yes, when her attorney is making twelve hundred dollars a day, I think is the math. So it’s it’s hard to reconcile those things. As an outsider, you get you get all of these facts and or at least what we perceive to be the facts that are being reported. And you’re you’re trying to marry those with the fact that you have this woman who has been providing for all of these people, they are on her payroll and she’s continuing to work and make millions of dollars. And yet you’re saying that she is not of sound mind. Those two things are hard to to reconcile, I think, for a lot of people.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: And so at Hightower, roughly, you do some guardianship conservatorship work, right?

Tosha Rae Heavican: I do. I help families who who need to get guardianship and conservatorship for for both minors or adult disabled persons.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: And at least what we know in Nebraska, there’s quite a bit of reporting that’s required, right?

Tosha Rae Heavican: Yes. So when when a guardianship or conservatorship is set up in Nebraska, there’s a bunch of initial paperwork that you have to go through as the person being appointed to serve as a guardian or conservator. You have to go through a training class, you also have to provide criminal background checks credit report. You have to provide a sex offender registry search showing that you’re not on it. And also you have to clear your name in the Department of Health and Human Services Abuse and Neglect Registry. So all of that information is submitted to the judge and. Then there’s a court hearing that happens in order to appoint somebody, and as part of that hearing, the person who’s being put under a guardianship or conservatorship or potentially being put under that has to be served. They have to get due process in order for the court to take jurisdiction over them and be able to enter an order saying, OK, person, you can no longer make decisions now Susie is going to make decisions for you, right? So that due process component is important. There are emergency proceedings that are available in Nebraska where you can get a guardianship set up prior to having the court hearing, but you have to show that there is an actual emergency that’s needed before the judge will sign an order entering those. But then you have to have a subsequent hearing after that.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: And then once a guardianship is put in place, what’s the reporting look like to the court after that?

Tosha Rae Heavican: So once a year, a guardian has to file an annual report. So the first several pages of the report is like things like how? How is the person doing? Do they go to school? Where do they live? How often do you see them? Who are their doctors? What kinds of medication are they on? All of those types of things about the body, right? The judge wants to know how is the person doing? And then the second part of the report is if you have access to any financial assets of the person that you are serving for, you have to report them to the court on an annual basis and you have to report every dollar in and every dollar out. So, for example, if somebody is disabled and they are receiving Social Security benefits, let’s say they get eight hundred dollars a month that gets deposited into an account and you have access to that money. You have to report to the judge. Ok, I received eight hundred dollars on January 1st, on January 3rd. I paid their transport fee of three hundred and twelve dollars and then on January 15th, I paid fifteen dollars for them to go to the movies and then I paid for the Zoo Pass. You know, money in money out because then that is submitted to the court and it’s audited every year by the courts office. And if there’s any question, then you have to go in and explain your accounting to the judge.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: So we can assume that’s probably pretty similar in California. There’s probably some reporting that’s happening by the Guardian conservators or conservator of the body, and that the judge is looking at those things.

Tosha Rae Heavican: I would say that that’s highly likely. The other thing that typically happens in Nebraska and I would assume is happening in California is that in order to pay an attorney and a guardianship conservatorship case, there has to be the judge has to approve the fees they have to be fair and reasonable. And typically, an attorney has to give testimony or an affidavit to say, these are my fees and this is what I did for the benefit of the person who’s under the conservatorship or guardianship.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: So it’s not likely that a five hundred and forty thousand dollar bill in Nebraska is going to be considered reasonable attorney’s fees right in a guardianship.

Tosha Rae Heavican: I think it depends on so many factors. I mean, number one, you have to look at the billing rate. I’m guessing on the coast that the average billing rate for an attorney is probably higher than it is in the Midwest and to the amount of time that is spent on the case. I can honestly say in the 10 years that I’ve been in the law, I have never seen a bill for that high for a guardianship or conservatorship case. But you know, so much of it is dictated by the facts and the situations. I mean, Britney has a lot going on, but Britney also has a lot of money. So I think sometimes those things can get skewed.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: So while I don’t think there’s anything in our office that we can do to free Britney, we support the movement, right? And I think we’re going to continue to follow what’s happening with Britney Spears, as this case is really interesting and fascinating, but also knowing that we’re we know we’re not getting 100 percent of the information because a lot of it’s under seal, right?

Tosha Rae Heavican: Yes. Yes, I think I think the biggest thing with Britney is and really with anything in life is you read it with a grain of salt. You know, take it in and try to try to marry it with what you know and what you understand. To be fair and and really, I try to liken it to what I would want to have happened in my own family if that was my sibling or my mom or my cousin. If they were being taken advantage of, then obviously I would want to utilize the law to make it better for them, right? But I also wouldn’t want the law to overtake them. So that’s really what the question is, I think.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Awesome. Well, this was a really interesting conversation about Britney Spears today. I learned a lot. It makes me want to continue checking out her Instagram page, although she doesn’t really talk about her case on that page. Just really kind of what she’s doing. And. But we’ll watch this as lawyers. I think it’s always interesting to see the current events in the pop stars and all of that. So thanks for listening today. Free, Britney, do you have to say hashtag FreeBritney, hashtag FreeBritney? Leave it in!

Announcer: Thank you for listening to the lady Lawyer League Podcast. Be sure to like and subscribe anywhere you get your podcasts, if you would like to learn more about our firm, Hightower Reff Law, visit us at HR Law We’ll see you next week.

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