The #FreeBritney Movement’s Next Fight

Everyone scoffed when a ragtag alliance of fans vowed to free the pop star from a 13-year conservatorship. Now they are playing a pivotal role in reforming California’s controversial conservatorship laws. No one’s laughing anymore
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What happens to #FreeBritney now that Britney is free?

The grass-roots movement to free Britney Spears, chronicled by LA mag in 2019, was led by an unlikely group of fans who were initially dismissed as conspiracy-minded celebrity-stalkers. They finally found vindication last June when the pop star testified during a globally-covered court appearance that she had had enough of her father and others managing her 13-year court-ordered conservatorship.

“They’ve done a good job at exploiting my life,” she told the court in a 23-minute speech. “I’m not happy. I can’t sleep. I’m so angry it’s insane, and I’m depressed. I cry every day.”

Spears was finally released from the conservatorship’s draconian personal and financial restraints in November by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny.  After a relentless two-and-a-half-year campaign exposing the entertainer’s bizarre predicament, the #FreeBritney Army declared victory.

But it seems that the #FreeBritney movement isn’t stopping there. With Britney back in charge of her own affairs, her supporters have turned their energies into reforming the entire conservatorship system. This time, they’re being taken more seriously.

Mathew Rosengart, Britney’s new personally-appointed attorney, credits the movement for drawing attention to controversial laws that affect as many as 1.3 million conservatorship and guardianship cases at any given time in the United States, granting control to lawyers and fiduciaries over assets totaling at least $50 billion belonging to people who are ill, disabled or mentally challenged, whose rights have essentially been stripped from them, according to the National Council on Disability.

“Their support [for Britney] was very meaningful in shining a light on various issues both in this specific case as well as nationally, which has and likely will further galvanize state and federal legislation in the interests of justice,” said Rosengart. 

Britney Spears attorney Mathew Rosengart speaks to the media following a conservatorship court hearing, outside the Stanley Mosk courthouse in Los Angeles, California on November 12, 2021. – A Los Angeles judge on Friday formally approved the process of ending the controversial guardianship that has controlled pop star Britney Spears’ life for the past 13 years. (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

“It’s become bigger than they ever imagined,” agrees Richard Calhoun, co-founder of Coalition for Elder & Disability Rights (CEDAR), one of a broad alliance of reform groups seeking a major overhaul of California’s conservatorship laws. “Now they’re taken seriously and have an opportunity to really make a difference.”

Betting the #FreeBritney momentum will boost their cause, the alliance has enlisted @FreeBritneyLA, the Los Angeles-based contingent responsible for spearheading the courthouse rallies that captured worldwide media attention. @FreeBritneyLA’s Kevin Wu, Leanne Simmons, and Megan Radford video conferenced recently with California State Assemblymember Brian Maienschein, who represents the 77th district, encompassing parts of northeastern San Diego. Others present at the meeting, including veteran lobbyists from the ACLU, Disability Rights California, and Disability Voices United (DVU), say they were impressed by the group’s input.

“They were prepared and organized in their presentation,” says Judy Mark, DVU president. “They’re taking skills they learned to the next level.”

@FreeBritneyLA’s first meeting with a California lawmaker was “promising,” said Kevin Wu. “I’m grateful that Assemblymember Maienschein is taking this issue seriously. It’s incredibly rewarding that our years of advocacy will result in lasting change, not only for Britney but for countless others.”

“They understand now that this is a social issue that will affect their parents, their grandparents, and them, too,” says Lisa MacCarley, an attorney specializing in probate law and a supporter of legislative reform. MacCarley fell in league with the #FreeBritney activists when they posted court documents on social media showing what appeared to be irregularities in the management of Britney’s conservatorship, and spoke at a courthouse rally last July. “I said, hey—you’re onto something here that has the potential to change the world.”

The newly drafted law, The Probate Conservatorship Reform and Supported Decision Making Act, is designed to reign in the shadowy industry of predatory fiduciaries, attorneys, and all-too-compliant judges who, the alliance charges, currently lack sufficient oversight to prevent frequent abuse of the elderly and disabled, and the looting of their estates. Previous legislative reform attempts have faced opposition, primarily from the California Bar Association.

Even so, reformers were cheered when Governor Newsom signed into law last year a measure granting conservatees the right to choose their own counsel, and assigning greater accountability to their court-appointed attorney. Expectations are higher for the renewed reform push with #FreeBritney aboard. 

“As displayed in the high-profile 13-year-long case of Britney Spears, it is far easier for one to find themselves in a conservatorship than to get out of one,” says a statement from Maienschein’s office announcing the new bill.

“We started our movement for Britney Spears,” says Leanne Simmons, of @FreeBritneyLA, in the same announcement, “but we quickly learned that conservatorship abuse is rampant across the State of California and beyond.”

Maienschein is expected to introduce the bill in Sacramento this spring. Says one of the alliance members, “We’re hoping to call it the ‘Free Britney Act’.”

Meanwhile, on the social media front, Britney has been feuding with her sister Jamie Lynn over her sibling’s recently published memoir, when not posting full nude selfies on her Instagram. To anyone questioning why, the 40-year old mother of two is forthright: “Free woman energy has never felt better.”

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