Britney Spears "never had a chance," says former family friend Jacqueline Butcher, one of dozens of sources Ronan Farrow and Jia Tolentino spoke to in a stunning New Yorker investigation of the 39-year-old's conservatorship agreement. Butcher says she provided testimony when the arrangement was set up after a period of erratic behavior from Spears 13 years ago—but she thought it was temporary and now feels exploited. She says a judge granted the conservatorship without even talking to Spears before taking away control of her finances and personal life. "The whole process was maybe ten minutes,” Butcher says. "No one testified. No questions were asked.” She says at the time, she thought she was helping the singer, but she now feels she "helped a corrupt family seize all this control." More from Farrow and Tolentino's report:
- On the night before a June 23 hearing, in which Spears—speaking publicly about the arrangement for the first time—denounced the "abusive" conservatorship and father Jamie Spears, she called 911 to say she was a victim of conservatorship abuse. Sources say members of the conservatorship team, who had long kept the arrangement shrouded in secrecy, began to panic about what she might say the next day.
- Sources say before the arrangement was in place, Spears' parents were "terrified" by the influence of former manager Sam Lufti and feared he was siphoning money from her. Lufti says Spears warmed to him after he told her she didn't have to work as hard as she had been doing. "It blew her mind that she could just call the shots," he says.
- Butcher says she asked mother Lynne Spears if she thought both parents should be co-conservators, but she declined, saying she thought the arrangement would only last a few months. Butcher also recalls Jamie Spears often saying "I am Britney Spears!" when talking about his control over his daughter's life.
- Sources told Farrow and Tolentino that they felt lawyer Sam Ingham III, appointed by the court to represent Spears, was more loyal to Jamie Spears and the conservatorship. Spears pays Ingman's annual salary of $520,000, which is almost $100,00 less that she was allowed for living expenses in 2019.
- In the early weeks of the conservatorship, while still hospitalized under an involuntary psychiatric hold, Spears contacted a lawyer who told the court she strongly opposed having her father as a conservator—but the judge agreed with conservatorship lawyers' argument that Spears lacked the capacity to hire her own lawyer.
- Butcher says that soon after Spears got out of the hospital, her father told her to prepare for a comeback and started wearing her down psychologically. "He would get all in her face—spittle was flying—telling her she was a whore and a terrible mother," she says. Butcher says Jamie Spears told his daughter she wouldn't see her kids unless she cooperated.
- Tolentino tells NPR that multiple sources said the main way Spears "was manipulated or coerced or coaxed into cooperating with the conservatorship structure is that the conservatorship becomes a singular condition of being able to continue to see her children."
- While Spears been pushing back against her father's role, she has been paying his legal bills. Court documents state that from Oct. 2020 to Feb. 2021 alone, her father's lawyers billed almost $900,000, including fees for PR specialists.
- Kim Vo, Spears' former hair colorist, says they went out for dinner in 2012 and Spears said she couldn't afford her half of the $1,300 bill. That year, she had made $15 million from her work on the X-Factor alone, but court documents state she was restricted to a $2,000 per week allowance.
- Members of the conservatorship team say the arrangement is still necessary, though experts told Farrow and Tolentino that it is common for such guardianships to become "self-reinforcing," with a person's success under the arrangement being taken as proof of its necessity. "Should Britney get out, just watch," said disability rights lawyer Jonathan Martinis. "The first mistake she makes, fingers will wag, and people will say this would never have happened if she were under guardianship."
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