The dramatic downfall of Britney Spears hit an all-time low on January 30, 2008.
Among onlooking paparazzi and helicopters, the pop star was put into an ambulance and rushed to UCLA Medical Center after days of bizarre behavior by Spears that included driving recklessly and speaking in a British accent.
It was the second time in less than a month that she had been taken to a hospital for emergency psychiatric evaluation.
With footage at the time surfacing of her shaving her own head and attacking paparazzi with an umbrella, it was obvious that Spears needed help.
And on February 1, 2008, she got it — in a legal judgment that still rules her life.
While Spears was still in the hospital, her father, Jamie, was granted temporary conservatorship of his daughter, giving him control over her treatment, visitors, security, and daily life.
Today, Spears performs daily at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, having recently signed a two-year extension worth $35 million. In 2015, Forbes named her the sixth-highest-earning female musician, and she will release a new album, her first since 2013, in May.
In one way this is the comeback millions of her fans have been waiting for. But behind the scenes her life is controlled by the conservatorship. And new reporting from The New York Times suggests that Spears has almost no control over her career and personal life.
According to the arrangement, which is typically used to protect the mentally disabled or extremely ill, Spears cannot make decisions about her personal life or finances without the approval of her conservators: her father and lawyer Andrew M. Wallet.
Purchases ranging from a car to a drink at Starbucks are tracked in court documents as a way to safeguard her fortune.
But there are signs that the conservatorship on Spears may one day be lifted. On Monday she was allowed to testify in a case filed against her by a former self-described manager. In at least three previous lawsuits, she was kept from testifying because of the restrictions under her conservatorship.
A court-appointed lawyer, Samuel D. Ingham III, would most likely be the person to decide whether Spears still needs the conservatorship. He makes sure the conservators do not abuse their power.
The Times points out, however, that there’s a debate in California about whether court-appointed lawyers do enough as advocates for the rights of those under conservatorship.
California’s Senate Judiciary Committee said in a report last year, “In theory the court-appointed counsel should be arguing on the proposed conservatee’s behalf for a less-restrictive alternative to conservatorship whenever possible.”
According to The Times, Ingham has been awarded $2 million in fees for his work on Spears’ behalf since 2008. Spears’ father makes $130,000 a year as a conservator and is reimbursed for the rent of an office he uses. He has also requested 1.5% of the gross revenues from the performances and merchandising tied to Spears’ Vegas show.
Spears’ status and progress are measured by a court investigator, who files a report once every other year.
Back in 2008, when Spears’ father asked the court to establish a temporary conservatorship, Spears wanted to challenge it.
“Britney wanted to oppose the conservatorship,” Adam Streisand, who was one of two lawyers who spoke to the star at the time, told The Times. “But she was also extremely worried about her kids and seemed to understand that the best thing to do to see her kids was to accept it.”
Spears and her father declined to comment for the Times story, but in 2008 Spears said in an interview with MTV about the conservatorship: “I think it’s too in control. If I wasn’t under the restraints I’m under, I’d feel so liberated.”
Yet last year, she told People: “I’m in a real good place in my life. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”