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NY Times : Testing Britney Spears: Restoring Rights Can Be Rare and Difficult


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Article link : https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/23/health/britney-spears-conservatorship.html?smtyp=cur&smid=tw-nytimes

Her voice quaking with anger and despair, the pop star Britney Spears has asked repeatedly in court to be freed from the conservatorship that has controlled her money and personal life for 13 years. What’s more, she asked the judge to sever the arrangement without making her undergo a psychological evaluation.

It’s a demand that legal experts say is unlikely to be granted. The mental health assessment is usually the pole star in a constellation of evidence that a judge considers in deciding whether to restore independence. 

Its underlying purpose is to determine whether the conditions that led to the imposition of the conservatorship have stabilized or been resolved.

The evaluation process, which uneasily melds mental health criteria with legal standards, illustrates why the exit from strict oversight is difficult and rare. State laws are often ambiguous. And their application can vary from county to county, judge to judge, case to case.

Isn’t Ms. Spears’s artistic and financial success proof she is self-sufficient?

Yes and no. A judge looks for what, in law, is called “capacity.” The term generally refers to benchmarks in a person’s functional and cognitive ability as well as their vulnerability to harm or coercion.

Under California law, which governs Ms. Spears’s case, a person deemed to have capacity can articulate risks and benefits in making decisions about medical care, wills, marriage and contracts (such as hiring a lawyer), and can feed, clothe and shelter themselves.

Annette Swain, a Los Angeles psychologist who does neuropsychological assessments, said that because someone doesn’t always show good judgment, it doesn’t mean they lack capacity. “We all can make bad decisions at many points in our lives,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean that we should have our rights taken away.”

Even so, Ms. Spears’s professional and financial successes do not directly speak to whether she has regained “legal mental capacity,” which she was found to lack in 2008, after a series of public breakdowns, breathlessly captured by the media. At that time, a judge ruled that Ms. Spears, who did not appear in court, was so fragile that a conservatorship was warranted.

Judges authorize conservatorships usually for one of three broad categories: a severe psychiatric breakdown; a chronic, worsening condition like dementia; or an intellectual or physical disability that critically impairs function.

Markers indicating a person has regained capacity appear to set a low bar. But in practice, the bar can be quite high.

“‘Restored to capacity’ before the psychotic break? Or the age the person is now? That expression is fraught with importing value judgment,” said Robert Dinerstein, a disability rights law professor at American University.

Records detailing grounds for the petition from Ms. Spears’s father, Jamie Spears, to become his daughter’s conservator are sealed. A few factors suggest the judge at the outset regarded the situation as serious. She appointed conservators to oversee Ms. Spears’s personal life as well as finances. She also ruled that Ms. Spears could not hire her own lawyer, though a lawyer the singer consulted at the time said he thought she was capable of that.

Earlier this month, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny said Ms. Spears could retain her own counsel.

Does “capacity” differ among states?

Yes. Some states, like California, detail basic functional abilities. Others do not. Colorado acknowledges modern advances like “appropriate and reasonably available technological assistance.” Illinois looks for “mental deterioration, physical incapacity, mental illness, developmental disability, gambling, idleness, debauchery, excessive use of intoxicants or drugs.”

Sally Hurme of the National Guardianship Association noted: “You could be found to be incapacitated in one state but not in another.”

Who performs the psychological assessment?

Ideally, a forensic psychiatrist or a psychologist with expertise in neuropsychological assessments. But some states just specify “physician.” Psychiatrists tend to place greater weight on diagnoses; psychologists emphasize tests that measure cognitive abilities. Each reviews medical records and interviews family, friends and others.

Assessments can extend over several days. They range widely in depth and duration.

Eric Freitag, who conducts neuropsychological assessments in the Bay Area, said he prefers interviewing people at home where they are often more at ease, and where he can evaluate the environment. He asks about financial literacy: bill-paying, health insurance, even counting out change.

Assessing safety is key. Dr. Freitag will ask what the person would do if a fire broke out. “I’d call my daughter,” one of his subjects replied.

Who chooses the evaluator?

Ms. Spears has not been able to choose her evaluators in the past because the conservator has the power to make those decisions. However, if she moves to dissolve the conservatorship, she can select the evaluator, to help build her case. If the conservator, her father, opposes her petition and objects to her selection, he could nominate a candidate to perform an additional assessment. Ms. Spears would likely pick up both tabs as costs of the conservatorship.

To avoid a bitter battle of experts and the appearance that an assessor hired by either camp would be inherently biased — plus the strain of two evaluations on Ms. Spears — the judge could try to get both sides to agree to an independent, court-appointed doctor.

What impact does a mental health diagnosis have on an evaluation?

Many states explicitly say that a diagnosis of a severe mental health disorder is not, on its own, evidence that a person should remain in conservatorship.

Stuart Zimring, an attorney in Los Angeles County who specializes in elderlaw and special needs trusts, noted that he once represented a physician with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder who was under a conservatorship. The doctor’s rights were eventually restored after he proved he was attending counseling sessions and taking medication.

“It was a joyous day when the conservatorship was terminated,” said Mr. Zimring. “He got to practice medicine again, under supervision.”

The association between the diagnosis of a severe mental disorder and a determination of incapacity troubles Dr. Swain, the Los Angeles psychologist.

“Whatever they ended up diagnosing Britney Spears with, was it of such severity that she did not understand the decisions that she had to make, that she could not provide adequate self-care?” she asked. “Where do you draw that line? It’s a moving target.”

Does the judge have to accept an evaluator’s findings?

No, but judges usually do.

What standard does a probate judge apply to reach a decision?

In most states, when a judge approves a conservatorship, which constrains a person’s autonomy, the evidence has to be “clear and convincing,” a rigorous standard just below the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

But when a conservatee wants those rights restored, many experts believe the standard should be more lenient.

Some states indeed apply a lower standard to end a conservatorship. In California, a judge can do so by finding it is more likely than not (“preponderance of evidence”) that the conservatee has capacity. But some states say that the evidence to earn a ticket out still has to be “clear and convincing.”

Most states do not even set a standard.

“There’s an underlying assumption that if you can get the process right, everything would be fine and we wouldn’t be depriving people of rights,” said Jennifer Mathis, deputy legal director of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. “Our take is that the process is fundamentally broken and that we shouldn’t be using guardianship in so many cases.”

If someone is doing well, isn’t the conservatorship no longer necessary?

Yes and no. “Judges are haunted by people they have had in front of them who have been released and disaster happens,” said Victoria Haneman, a trusts and estates law professor at Creighton University. “So they take a conservative approach to freedom.”

Describing the Kafkaesque conundrum of conservatorship, Zoe Brennan-Krohn, a disabilities rights lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, said: “If she’s doing great, the system is working and should continue. If she is making choices others disagree with, then she’s unreliable and she needs the system.”

Or, as Kristin Booth Glen, a former New York State judge who oversaw such cases and now works to reform the system, put it, “Conservatorship and guardianship are like roach motels: you can check in but you can’t check out.”

Can an evaluator recommend a less restrictive approach than a conservatorship?

At times. Judge Glen once approved the termination of a guardianship of a young woman originally deemed to have the mental acuity of a 7-year-old. After three years of thoughtful interventions, the woman, since married and raising two children, had become able to participate fully in her life. She relied on a team for “supported decision making,” which Judge Glen called “a less restrictive alternate to the Draconian loss of liberty” of guardianship.

A supported decision-making approach has been hailed by the Uniform Law Commission, which drafts model statutes. It has said judges should seek “the least restrictive alternative” to conservatorship.

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They need to realize how ******* lucky they got in the first place, getting her into one and having it last 13 years. Now the time is up and they need to dissolve it fast. It’s enough. 

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Just now, MX3 said:

They need to realize how ******* lucky they got in the first place, getting her into one and having it last 13 years. Now the time is up and they need to dissolve it fast. It’s enough. 

I agree, what I sense from this article is that it's not gonna be an easy fight. 

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2 minutes ago, femmepop said:

Hopefully this new legal team will be able to prove that the conservatorship wasn't needed in the first place and it can just be dissolved/annulled. They have to go after the system itself, the laws that allowed this to happen. The corruption.

That's what needs to happen. This is the only route.

It's not about deciding if Britney is "competent" enough. F-U-C-K playing by the rules. 

DESTROY THE DAMN SYSTEM!!!!!!!!!!

Yes.

I truly hope that’s what Rosengart is able to do.

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Sorry - I don’t need long essays from the NYT (not a dig at you original poster - just saying in general) 
 

Britney was Illegally put into this CONservatorship, she has been stripped of her basic human nights and self respect for 13 years, she has worked and released 4 albums/done 3 tours/done hundreds of Vegas shows/multiple TV shows and it’s ******* time to let her out.

Neither Britney, her fans or her highly successful lawyer are interested in anything else but her being immideately released and the corrupt legal system and dozens of ******* SCUM who have destroyed her life and dreams to be thrown in Jail.

 

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4 minutes ago, KrisJ said:

Sorry - I don’t need long essays from the NYT (not a dig at you original poster - just saying in general) 
 

Britney was Illegally put into this CONservatorship, she has been stripped of her basic human nights and self respect for 13 years, she has worked and released 4 albums/done 3 tours/done hundreds of Vegas shows/multiple TV shows and it’s ******* time to let her out.

Neither Britney, her fans or her highly successful lawyer are interested in anything else but her being immideately released and the corrupt legal system and dozens of ******* SCUM who have destroyed her life and dreams to be thrown in Jail.

 

This is not what about what's illegal and fraudulent this article is how she can get out of it, we all know how she was put under the article is talking about the system and not what was right and wrong. 

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12 minutes ago, femmepop said:

Hopefully this new legal team will be able to prove that the conservatorship wasn't needed in the first place and it can just be dissolved/annulled. They have to go after the system itself, the laws that allowed this to happen. The corruption.

That's what needs to happen. This is the only route.

It's not about deciding if Britney is "competent" enough. F-U-C-K playing by the rules. 

DESTROY THE DAMN SYSTEM!!!!!!!!!!

I hope this time Britney gets what she absolutely deserves. 

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16 minutes ago, MX3 said:

They need to realize how ******* lucky they got in the first place, getting her into one and having it last 13 years. Now the time is up and they need to dissolve it fast. It’s enough. 

Remember, at this point the conservatorship is on its way to being dissolved. But intended delays will ensure that anyone who has had wrong doing towards Ms. Spears has time to cover their tracks. That is why this will take longer than necessary. 

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1 hour ago, KrisJ said:

Sorry - I don’t need long essays from the NYT (not a dog at you original poster - just saying in general) 
 

Britney was Illegally put into this CONservatorship, she has been stripped of her basic human nights and self respect for 13 years, she has worked and released 4 albums/done 3 tours/done hundreds of Vegas shows/multiple TV shows and it’s ******* time to let her out.

Neither Britney, her fans or her highly successful lawyer are interested in anything else but her being immideately released and the corrupt legal system and dozens of ******* SCUM who have destroyed her life and dreams to be thrown in Jail.

 

I agree, but that's what the article explains.

The reason why it's hard to get her freedom back, it's because all of her achievements aren't necessarily proof of her capacity, at least not in a legal way. It is for all of us of course, but the law is so ambiguous and the system is so broken, that it's precisely why they've been able to get away with all of this for so long. I mean, the judge herself had to approve her gigs, the same judge that made the conservatorship permanent. 

It's not gonna be as simple as come and say, here, she did this and that, and recorded these albums, and toured all these times, because for the law, that's not enough evidence from a legal perspective. 

 

However, just like they twisted the law to put her in, Mathew's job is gonna be to twist it in her favor. For example, the article says a judge will most likely hear the report of an expert evaluation, but is not obligated to follow its conclusion. And Rosengart could somehow take all the things Britney's done, and translate them to fit or fight back whatever reasons they have to have her under the conservatorship. As in, ok, touring the world is not evidence in itself, but her doing this and that means she's not prone to undue influence, or this proves she has the capacity to make the right decisions, etc.

Another important point is a case they mention of a doctor that had schizophrenia and bipolar, and was able to escape the conservatorship and work as a doctor under supervision afterwards, so there's hope whatever the mysterious medical record says about Britney.

And this is me, but I think another key point for Mathew, rather than prove if she needs the conservatorship now, is to prove she didn't need it in the first place and that the process was not under the legal frame. 

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Even so, Ms. Spears’s professional and financial successes do not directly speak to whether she has regained “legal mental capacity,” which she was found to lack in 2008, after a series of public breakdowns, breathlessly captured by the media. At that time, a judge ruled that Ms. Spears, who did not appear in court, was so fragile that a conservatorship was warranted.”

**** right off!!! How did they know? Just because Scam Income said so?! Makes me sick that even now it’s reported like this. She did not appear... hmmm 🤔... yeah she was hospitalised and she was denied due process 🤯🤯🤯

Angry Mad GIF by Pokémon

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"Again, it makes no sense whatsoever for the state of California to sit back and literally watch me with their own two eyes, make a living for so many people, and pay so many people, trucks and buses on the road with me and be told, I’m not good enough."

The system is trash, wbk. I hope Rosengart can end this quickly as possible :trash_throw_away_recycle:

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All true!! I’ve being saying this from the beginning. It’s easier to obtain a conservatorship over someone than it is for the conservatee to remove themselves from it. The majority of people living under a conservatorship are elderly, severely cognitively disabled or gravely disabled/near death. This is why most people never get out of it. For those who truly need it and aren’t being taken advantage of by their family and lawyers it’s a good thing. But, there’s a mountain of gross misconduct happening within the probate court system.

The only ways people usually get out of a conservatorship is die or fight for years to be free of it… but if they’re ever allowed out of the cship they are left destitute. Penniless.Broke!! No money & no home.⬇️
Example: Nashville singer-songwriter Danny Tate. He was not as wealthy nor as famous like Britney. But he had some fan’s support. His lack of substantial wealth IMO is what helped him to get free; meaning the conservatorship $$ from his estate ran out. It takes money to keep a conservatorship going!! That’s a disadvantage for Britney because she’s super rich and still turns a profit whether she’s works, tours or not.

But, Britney might have an advantage due to the international attention the Free Britney movement has managed to achieve AND because Britney finally was allowed to SPEAK FOR HERSELF in open court!!! She has a real chance of regaining her full legal freedom while she’s relatively still young & hopefully regains full control of her financial estate too!!

Please read more about Danny Tate’s conservatorship case. He was locked in the con system with his vile brother in control of his life & estate for 3 years, but still was fighting years after his c’ship was terminated-on paper. Ironically, Danny’s conservatorship ended just as Britney’s began…13 years ago.

‘Free Danny Tate’ 2007-2010 https://bit.ly/3xWbuJH

2016 Danny Tate still fighting against conservatorship abuse — his MUSIC ROYALTIES 😬 https://bit.ly/3BAgxl5

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4 minutes ago, Z-dawg said:

Even so, Ms. Spears’s professional and financial successes do not directly speak to whether she has regained “legal mental capacity,” which she was found to lack in 2008, after a series of public breakdowns, breathlessly captured by the media. At that time, a judge ruled that Ms. Spears, who did not appear in court, was so fragile that a conservatorship was warranted.”

**** right off!!! How did they know? Just because Scam Income said so?! Makes me sick that even now it’s reported like this. She did not appear... hmmm 🤔... yeah she was hospitalised and she was denied due process 🤯🤯🤯

Angry Mad GIF by Pokémon

This is the law Y'all :beat_fighting_punching_hitting_angry:

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