The right to be represented by an attorney—and, in ideal circumstances, having that person be an attorney of your choice—is one of the fundamental guarantees of the American contract. It’s a choice we afford to nearly everybody, up to and including people charged with, and convicted of, utterly heinous acts.
But not Britney Spears—at least, until today.
This is per The New York Times, which reports on a new development in the long, ugly, and typically obfuscated fight over Spears’ 13-year conservatorship, the legal arrangement that places control over the superstar’s living circumstances, finances, and more in the hands of others—on the grounds that she’s been deemed legally unfit to make those decisions for herself. That includes, as it happens, selection of legal representation, which is why, for the run of the conservatorship, her legal duties have been handled by a court-appointed lawyer named Samuel Ingham.
As with many of the realities of the situation surrounding Spears—rendered obscure by a decade-plus haze of self-interest, legal maneuvering, and the tight controls placed on Spears’ ability to communicate with the outside world—it’s difficult to parse out what Ingham’s role in the conservatorship has been at various points. In recent years, he’s made apparent pushes on her behalf, including making motions to have her father, Jamie Spears, removed from places of control over her life. But a recent New Yorker piece by Ronan Farrow and Jia Tolentino, which provides one of the clearer available windows into the day-to-day realities of the conservatorship, paints Ingham as subordinate to the elder Spears, while Britney’s own testimony accused him of under-educating her on her circumstances, including never having told her that she was allowed to petition for the end of the conservatorship itself. The New Yorker piece also notes in passing that Ingham has drawn a $520,000 annual salary for his role as Spears’ court-appointed counsel, suggesting that he’s profited mightily off of the arrangement; it also details the extensive clandestine efforts Spears has reportedly gone to over the years in an effort to hire her “own” lawyer. (All of which have ultimately been blocked by the courts.)
All of this came to a head in recent weeks, when Ingham (and a law firm he’d contracted to help him in his duties) asked to be removed from his role as Spears’ legal rep. (There’s been no stated motive for the change, although we can’t imagine having the eye of the #FreeBritney movement focused directly on him has made Ingham anxious to continue in the role.) Judge Penny has now accepted that request, and, at the same time, allowed Spears to select her own attorney, picking Mathew S. Rosengart, a former federal prosecutor known for working with a number of high-profile celebrities. Rosengart is expected to push hard for an end to the conservatorship.
None of which means anything is even close to being resolved—there’s still an open question over who will serve as Spears’ financial conservator (since the current co-conservator, Bessemer Trust, backed out of the arrangement when it realized how much public relations shit it was now in), and her personal conservator, Jodi Montgomery, has begun a public sniping match with Jamie Spears over who’s ultimately responsible for Britney’s unhappiness with the arrangement. But having a legal advocate of her own choosing—and having the courts acknowledge her right to make that choice—is a pretty massive step forward for Spears’ ongoing efforts to assert her rights to self-determination.