Britney Spears Conservatorship Aftermath Explained

Britney Spears, who is under a conservatorship, and her boyfriend Sam Asghari
Britney Spears Conservatorship Aftermath Explained by Celebrity Divorce Lawyer Christopher C. Melcher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[Source: Acast]

Celebrity divorce lawyer Christopher C. Melcher of Walzer Melcher LLP, which was named best family law firm in 2020, explains the Britney Spears Conservatorship Aftermath

This week, The Alarmist (Rebecca Delgado Smith) speaks with Guest Expert, Family Attorney Christopher C Melcher, about how the #FREEBRITNEY movement is opening up a broader discussion on the rights of disabled people and why Britney’s case is unusual. Then, Rebecca and Producer Amanda contemplate changing their original verdict.

Rebecca Delgado Smith:

Hey, everyone. Thanks for tuning into this episode of The Aftermath. Today we’re speaking with guest expert, Christopher C. Melcher, a California-based celebrity divorce lawyer, and let’s hear what he has to say about the Britney Spears conservatorship.

So can you start off by explaining to our listeners what a conservatorship is?

Christopher C. Melcher:

It’s a legal procedure to appoint somebody as a guardian to take care of an individual who cannot take care of themselves. So this is an adult who can safely manage their own finances or safely manage their own life. It’s the most extreme circumstances really that indicate the need for a conservator, but when one is needed the court will appoint somebody to make decisions over this adult’s life.

Rebecca Delgado Smith:

And who are usually granted, who are these usually granted to and how common is it for a 39-year-old to be under one?

Christopher C. Melcher:

The preference is for a relative, because this is a lot of work and many folks don’t have the ability to pay a professional to manage their lives. So it’s usually a brother or sister or parent who is going to act as the conservator or an adult child for an elderly parent. And the people who would need that at age 39 are usually developmentally disabled. And so these folks normally have or typically have never led a life independent.

Rebecca Delgado Smith:

So what is the difference between a conservatorship, a guardianship and a power-of-attorney?

Christopher C. Melcher:

Yeah, that’s a great question. So a power-of-attorney would be the most common thing and where it’s delegating the power to make a decision to one person. So for example, a power-of-attorney can be given to someone to sign an agreement for them. And there’s all kinds of reasons usually for convenience that that happens.

Christopher C. Melcher:

A guardianship is where an adult is given authority over a child. And so this is a non-parent who is stepping in to take care of a child because the parent is not available. And then a conservatorship is one adult stepping in to take care of another adult.

Rebecca Delgado Smith:

What type of conservatorship does Britney Spears have?

Christopher C. Melcher:

She has two types. So under California law, there’s a conservator over the estate, which controls financial decision-making, signing a contract, taking money out of the bank. And then there is a conservator over the person, which controls where the conservatee can live, where they can go, who they can see. She has both kinds and so that’s the most extreme type of conservatorship.

Rebecca Delgado Smith:

Is it possible to have just one of these or do they have to come together?

Christopher C. Melcher:

They can be separate. Now normally if we have a conservator over the person, we’re going to definitely have one over their estate or finances. Because if they can’t take care of basic needs for food, clothing and shelter, they’re certainly not going to be able to make financial decisions. But we do see folks who can take care of their basic living needs, but can’t make financial decisions without being victimized by undue influence or fraud. So the classic example, there would be an elderly person who’s able to live independently, but really is starting to lose memory and wouldn’t know what to do with their money and could easily be taken advantage of. So that person would not have a conservator over their person, they would decide where they’re going to live and who they’re going to see, but their finances could be controlled by somebody else.

Christopher C. Melcher:

And what’s important to remember in this is these are not folks who are making bad choices or bad decision-makers. You don’t have to be an expert at finances to avoid a conservatorship. These are people who without one would be victimized or would be so unsafe that the government needs to step in and take their liberty away from them.

Rebecca Delgado Smith:

Right. That’s a good distinction. It’s not that you are just bad at your finances.

Christopher C. Melcher:

There’s a lot of people who have horrible judgment, as we know, and will be defrauded or make horrible investment choices, and they don’t need a conservatorship. So what we’re really looking at here is somebody who is so disabled, whether it’s temporarily or permanent, that they just have no ability to resist fraud. So any of us could be victims of fraud, that’s what happened is if somebody takes our confidence.

Christopher C. Melcher:

But we’re talking about someone who could not resist fraud or undue influence because they don’t have the decision-making powers and judgment that a normal adult would, and a normal adult is a very big, big tent there that you could be in. So these are people that you should know, almost instantly talking to them that they need help, that they can’t do it alone.

Rebecca Delgado Smith:

Yeah. In the 13 years that Britney has been under a conservatorship, she’s done a residency in Las Vegas, she’s come out with several music albums. She’s able to bring in millions of dollars in these years. Is she the kind of person who would usually be under a conservatorship?

Christopher C. Melcher:

Britney does not fit the mold for conservatorship at this point. She may have when she had the public breakdown, when she was under all that enormous pressure and she definitely needed help there temporarily. At this time so many years after that happened, 13 years later, publicly we don’t know of anything that’s happened since then.

Christopher C. Melcher:

And like you mentioned, she’s working. Work is the high function. So it’s difficult and I couldn’t imagine doing a Las Vegas residency that must be growing and performing. She did all that. So it makes no sense that she would need, to me, this highest form of conservatorship telling her where she can live or where she could go or who she could see when she’s able to work. It’s been admitted that she’s a high-functioning person and she’s posting on social media.

Christopher C. Melcher:

Now I’m sure that’s being monitored at some level, but it’s still her on these posts and these videos and her words apparently. And there’s nothing in there to indicate that she’s unable to take care of herself.

Christopher C. Melcher:

So it’s kind of a mystery to me why it would be needed so long afterwards. And certainly if she was free from all these legal restrictions, she would still have a management team. She’d have lawyers and accountants and business advisers that would be helping her just like any other successful person would. That doesn’t mean that the law needs to appoint somebody to do that, she can hire somebody to do that. So it’s quite a mystery to me why she would need these extreme protections.

Rebecca Delgado Smith:

How hard is it to end a conservatorship? What is the process like?

Christopher C. Melcher:

The conservatee, Britney in this situation, can ask the court to have it terminated, or anyone interested in it could ask the court to terminate it like one of the conservatories or a relative. So that’s the starting process somebody has to ask for it and she hasn’t done that so far and we can talk about maybe what that implies. But to get out of it could be hard and it depends on why you got into it. So if somebody is developmentally disabled, well, they’re going to be developmentally disabled their entire life and they’re never getting out of the conservatorship.

Christopher C. Melcher:

Somebody who is under a conservatorship for a temporary issue like Britney, you would expect once the temporary issue subsided, once the crisis was over that the need for the conservatorship would also end and that hasn’t happened here. So that’s what’s kind of confounding to me and we’ve seen other celebrities in crisis, unfortunately a lot of celebrities in crisis.

Christopher C. Melcher:

You look at Michael Jackson. Certainly at the end of his life, he could not safely take care of himself. He was being taken advantage of or just harming himself. That would have been certainly a situation where a temporary conservatorship was indicated. Somebody could come over there take control of his life because no one was controlling it properly and literally save his life. And after he recovered, then restore his rights, but you don’t do that for 13 years.

Rebecca Delgado Smith:

So what are the implications just that she’s had it for so long?

Christopher C. Melcher:

The implication that she’s had it so long and hasn’t asked to be terminated is that she at the moment is fine with being under conservatorship. She doesn’t want her dad to be involved, and I wish the court would have respected those wishes and changed out the father. Because this high-functioning person asked that her dad be removed to me, that’s good enough. But she has not asked for it to be terminated.

Christopher C. Melcher:

And I really don’t buy the theory that somebody is controlling that decision, because she has a court-appointed attorney. That attorney went into court, adverse to Jamie Spears, her father, the conservatorship, and asked the court in a live hearing to remove Jamie Spears as a conservator. There’s no way that that attorney for Britney is aligned with or in the pocket of Jamie, because that attorney would have never gone against Jamie so they’re adverse. And so if her attorney could ask the court to remove Jamie, they could have just as easily said, “Well, just end the whole thing right now.”

Rebecca Delgado Smith:

What do you have to prove in order to get one out?

Christopher C. Melcher:

She has to show that she doesn’t need these restrictions. And my suggestion or thought would be that she would start with terminating the conservator over her person and say, “Judge, look at my record of behavior. I’m here before you able to explain what I want. And I’m clearly able to provide food, clothing, and shelter for myself safely, and maybe leave the conservator over the estate intact for a while and then address that down the road.” To me that would be a successful strategy because she’s showing that she’s able to speak for herself, that she’s not trying to just do this on a whim and get rid of the entire conservatorship that her finances are at least going to be protected. 

Christopher C. Melcher:

But I think the courts are wary. They never want to make a mistake and be blamed for it later. So it may be easier for the judge to follow inertia and just say, “Well, hey, this is the way we’ve been going. This is the way we’ll continue going and not be criticized for doing that.” But if they release her from these legal restrictions, she makes her own decisions and gets into trouble and harms herself, then everyone would be saying that the judge made a mistake.

Rebecca Delgado Smith:

Previously, one of her co-conservators was Andrew Wallet. Now he was then replaced. He was in the position for, I believe it was nine or 10 years. Why was he replaced?

Christopher C. Melcher:

I don’t know that. Now most of these proceedings are held in secret. And it’s pretty amazing that we’re even given access to some of these hearings and what’s going on because these are secret proceedings. And there are a lot of people under conservatorships and we have no idea what’s going on. The court needs to review them annually, but we don’t know. Does that mean just checking in and looking at a report or do they actually, what level of review are they really doing? So we don’t know a whole lot what was going on in the conservatorship until recently when we’ve been invited to see.

Christopher C. Melcher:

But there’s no allegation that I’m aware of that any of these conservators, these decision-makers have done anything that have harmed her, that there’s no allegation of fraud that they’ve ripped off her estate or made bad agreements for her or abused her. We don’t know what’s really happening, but no one’s alleging that.

The only allegation has been made against Jamie is that he had physically abused one of her kids and that’s why there’s a restraining order in place. But like I say, it seems like after all these years if financial abuse or physical abuse were happening of Britney that we would have heard something about it by her court-appointed lawyer by now.

Rebecca Delgado Smith:

Now as a parent, couldn’t her mom Lynn Spears take over? Would that be a possibility?

Christopher C. Melcher:

Lynn Spears has the right as what we would call an interested person to come into court and ask that the conservatorship be terminated or that she be appointed as the conservator instead of Jamie or Bessemer Trust or in conjunction with them. She absolutely has a right to ask for that. Court doesn’t have to agree, but she can ask.

Rebecca Delgado Smith:

Right, right. So what about her boyfriend Sam Asghari? I think I’m saying that right.

Christopher C. Melcher:

No chance of that happening. He’s not a relative and he’s not a professional conservator and he has an interest here. I’m not saying anything bad about him at all. I’m just assuming he’s a great person and great in providing great support to Britney, but that’s the last type of person that we would want in there. Not type of person, but type of relationship, nothing to do with him particularly.

Christopher C. Melcher:

But we really don’t want to have a boyfriend-girlfriend in there because of the concern that will, maybe that person could unduly influence. Or what if the relationship isn’t going to last and she would have ordinarily broken up with him, but he has control over her to continue the relationship. So it could be a little creepy and maybe there’s some conflicts there.

It’s different I think with husband and wife. So once you’re married, you’re in that long-term stable relationship. You’re in a legal relationship as husband and wife, then I could see a spouse being appointed as conservator, but not a boyfriend-girlfriend.

Christopher C. Melcher:

And the other thing is, is that he made some comments publicly about Jamie that were kind of disrespectful. Now maybe they were appropriate because he knows something we don’t, but publicly he should not have said that. And it makes him look embroiled into the controversy and not cool-headed that we would want. Because we’re appointing somebody to take control of another’s life. It’s like a parent-child relationship. And so when you look at it in that lens, the parent will figure here the conservator. We want somebody to have really good judgment, patients, empathy and so that they can make good decisions. And if they’re out there making public comments that are unprofessional, they just don’t look like a conservator.

Rebecca Delgado Smith:

Britney’s situation has sparked a conversation about the rights of people with disabilities and the need for conservatorship laws to be reformed. What are your thoughts on this?

Christopher C. Melcher:

I think that there’s good stuff that’s come out of this Free Britney Movement because they’ve put attention on something that usually happens in secret number one. So now there’s interest in, well, what is a conservatorship and why would there be one and how many people are under it and are these really being reviewed? And sure we all care about Britney, but what about the other thousands and thousands of people that are under these conservatorships?

Rebecca Delgado Smith:

I believe it’s 1.3 million.

Christopher C. Melcher:

Okay. Well, that’s a great stat. Thank you for finding that. And that is a lot of people and who speaks for them. So that’s an important part. The other part is on mental illness or mental health issues as a disability. And that’s been something that’s been really difficult for I think us as a society maybe until recently and I don’t even know how much so to accept that that’s a disability. And so before somebody had a physical disability would be open and obvious, we would see that and we would be able to empathize with them and hopefully give them accommodations, whatever they needed.

Christopher C. Melcher:

But somebody with mental health issues, we’ve treated really poorly as a society and blaming them for it, “Oh, they’re just crazy.” And we have a hard time distinguishing between somebody just being an awful person versus having a mental health crisis. And a mental health crisis is a disability and needs to be given the same amount of attention that a physical disability would. So I think that’s another good thing that’s come out of this.

Rebecca Delgado Smith:

Do you think that the Free Britney Movement is helping or hurting Britney’s case?

Christopher C. Melcher:

I think it helps because it’s putting attention on something that we weren’t really thinking about before. We knew she was under conservatorship. But now there’s pressure and I think pressure on Britney to explain why has she continued living under this arrangement for so long without asking for it to be terminated because she has that power to ask for it to be ended. And so I think we’re going to see I would imagine some more statements coming out of Britney’s side about, “Well, I am going to ask for it to be ended and here’s what my plan is for it.” Or, “Hey, I don’t want to end this. I actually need this. Please support me in what I’m going through. I’m going to be healthier and more protected with this arrangement.”

Christopher C. Melcher:

Right now, some people think she’s being held against her will and she needs to be freed. Others like myself think that unless she’s asked to be terminated the conservatorship and it’s rejected, I don’t see that she needs to be freed because it’s kind of ask and you shall receive concept. So if she asked to ask first and then the judge denies it, then I would be definitely saying something’s wrong here. Unless there’s behavior happening in private, there’s no reason for that conservatorship over her person taking away her liberty interests to be in place.

Rebecca Delgado Smith:

So Chris, we have to ask all of our guests this. At the end of the day, if you had to pick one person or thing, it can be a concept, that is to blame for Britney being under this type of strict conservatorship, who or what would that be?

Christopher C. Melcher:

So who’s to blame for Britney’s conservatorship is us. It’s our obsession with celebrity and we consume people. And it was because we want to see what’s happening in this celebrity’s life that the media was willing to pay enormous sums of money for people to go out there and photograph her and videotape her every movement. And that pressure turned somebody who seemed to be really well adjusted and happy and connected with her fans into somebody who couldn’t take the pressure. And it’s understandable because if every one of us if we were under surveillance and being taped and photographed all the time, I would hate that because I’ve had so many moments in my life where I’ve fallen down and I’ve done horrible things. And if that was all on tape and I was watching it being rebroadcast all the time, how could I live with myself?

Christopher C. Melcher:

And she was going through a custody battle. She wanted to see her kids. Her dad wouldn’t let her in. And it was after leaving his house that she was at the gas station that she was being videotaped and that’s when she lost it and hit the paparazzi’s car. I totally get it. I might’ve done the same thing. So we’re to blame and until we stop consuming people, it’s going to continue happening.