LOS ANGELES (CNS) - In a major victory for the pop star, Britney Spears' father was suspended today as conservator of his daughter's estate and an accountant was appointed to fill the role pending a hearing on whether Jamie Spears will be permanently ousted from the post, or the conservatorship ended altogether.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny ordered the suspension during a hearing Wednesday, calling the current arrangement “untenable'' and a “toxic environment.''
The judge scheduled a Nov. 12 hearing, during which attorneys will discuss a possible end to the conservatorship.
The judge's suspension of the 39-year-old singer's father followed impassioned pleas from Britney Spears' attorney, Mathew Rosengart, who accused the singer's father of widespread malfeasance in overseeing the pop star's financial affairs. He punctuated his arguments with allegations raised in a story published this week by The New York Times, including accusations that the singer's phone calls were being monitored and a recording device was placed in her bedroom.
Rosengart said that while the alleged bugging is a matter for law enforcement to investigate, his office will also be looking into what allegedly happened.
Jamie Spears has been overseeing his daughter's estate since the conservatorship began 13 years ago, and the singer has been vehemently pleading for his removal from the role. During an emotional court appearance earlier this year, the singer accused her father and others involved in the conservatorship of abusive and restrictive behavior that included limiting her movements, forcing her into unwanted therapy sessions and giving her unneeded medications.
Jamie Spears' attorney has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing by the singer's father, and she disputed the allegations raised in The New York Times article.
News of Penny's decision prompted cheers and celebrations outside the downtown Los Angeles Superior Court building, where dozens of Spears fans involved in the #FreeBritney movement began rallying early Wednesday morning. At one point, the crowd marched along the streets surrounding the courthouse.
Penny appointed accountant John Zabel to temporarily fill the role of conservator of Spears' estate.
Rosengart also asked Penny to begin the process of terminating the conservatorship altogether. Jamie Spears' attorney has also called for the start of a process to wind down the 13-year conservatorship.
His attorney, Vivian Thoreen, had objected to Jamie Spears' suspension, saying such a move was unnecessary if an end to the conservatorship was nearing. She said it made more sense to end the conservatorship immediately and terminate Jamie Spears' role at the same time.
Thoreen also objected to the appointment of Zabel, calling him an outsider who is unfamiliar with the case. She also questioned his qualifications to oversee a $47 million estate.
But Rosengart said Zabel is a nationally known CPA. He also said that by being suspended, Jamie Spears will have to turn over all case files to Zabel as well as any attorney-client communications, which Rosengart said could bring to light information Jamie Spears would rather not be revealed.
Rosengart filed a series of documents with the court in recent weeks calling for Jamie Spears' removal from the conservator post. In papers filed this week, he launched a last-minute salvo accusing him of “unfathomable'' behavior as outlined in The New York Times story.
“Mr. Spears was, of course, never fit to serve, for all of the many compelling reasons already contained in the record, ranging from his lack of financial acumen, to his bankruptcy, to his reported alcoholism, to the trauma he caused his daughter since her childhood, to the Domestic Violence Restraining Order recently issued against him,'' Rosengart wrote in the filing. “But now, the chickens have truly come home to roost.''
Rosengart said the latest allegations amount to “horrifying and unconscionable invasions of his adult daughter's privacy.''
The report included allegations that Jamie Spears and others monitored all of Britney Spears' phone use and placed a recording device in her bedroom that captured hours of private conversations, including talks with her children and her lawyer.
Jamie Spears has vigorously defended his work as conservator, but he has said he planned to step down from the post following the completion of the latest accounting of the estate. He also recently filed court papers agreeing with his daughter's call for the conservatorship to end.
“As Mr. Spears has said again and again, all he wants is what is best for his daughter,'' Jamie Spears' court papers stated. “If Ms. Spears wants to terminate the conservatorship and believes that she can handle her own life, Mr. Spears believes that she should get that chance.''
Thoreen also said Jamie Spears disputes the eavesdropping allegations, which she said are based on a television show and are not admissible evidence.
While Zabel will take over the role of temporary conservator of the singer's estate, Jodi Montgomery will continue serving as temporary conservator of her person. The judge extended both appointments through Dec. 31, but they could be ended before then if the conservatorship is terminated prior to that date.
The judge will consider some final accounting issues on Dec. 8, including payments to former court-appointed Spears attorney Samuel Ingham III.
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