Civil Liberties

Britney Is Not the Only One Who Needs Freeing

While Spears' case is the most high-profile example of alleged conservator abuse, there are similar stories from all over the country.


#FreeBritney has become a rallying cry of people who support Britney Spears' efforts to end a court-appointed conservatorship that had imposed nearly absolute control over the pop singer's life for 13 years.

A court granted Spears' father control over her personal affairs and her considerable assets in 2008, after an apparent mental break. This year Spears asked a judge to release her from the conservatorship, complaining that her conservators would not let her have a birth-control device removed, that she had no say over her grueling tour schedule, and that she was not even allowed to choose her own attorney.

"It makes no sense whatsoever for the state of California to sit back and literally watch me with their own two eyes, making a living for so many people and paying so many people, trucks and buses on tour, on the road with me, and be told I'm not good enough," Spears said at a June 23 hearing.

Spears' plight captured the nation's attention. The arc of her public persona, from teen superstar to punchline to resurgent icon to victim of the legal system, made clear that behind the music videos is an individual who wants what every adult wants: the freedom to make her own decisions and to enjoy the fruits of her labor. "I just want my life back," she said.

While Spears' case is the most high-profile example of alleged conservator abuse, there are similar stories from all over the country. In 2017, The New Yorker published an exposé that described how the elderly lose their autonomy, and a lifetime of accumulated wealth, to court-appointed guardians who perform roles very similar to those of conservators. The story found that credulous judges in Nevada had turned over the estates of hundreds of elderly people to profiteering guardians based on flimsy justifications, often over the objections of their families.

Last year, a Florida guardian for the elderly and incapacitated, Rebecca Fierle-Santoian, was arrested on charges that she filed "do not resuscitate" orders without her clients' permission. At the time, she had been entrusted with 450 guardianships. One woman who had been placed in her care was held for three years in an assisted-living facility against her will. She escaped only after her son smuggled in a cellphone, allowing her to contact an attorney who specialized in abusive guardianships.

When a judge finally terminated her guardianship, the woman had no home to return to. It had already been sold.

In July, a judge allowed Spears to hire her own attorney, a relatively significant victory for the singer. But ultimately, #FreeBritney is about more than one celebrity. Americans should demand scrutiny of guardianships that strip vulnerable but still capable people of their autonomy.

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  1. Americans should demand scrutiny of guardianships that strip vulnerable but still capable people of their autonomy.

    Which was what I was commenting on yesterday on that story about the old lady who got the $3 million settlement for having her arm broken by the police when they arrested her. Who actually got their hands on the settlement when this old lady sounds non compos mentis? Her crackhead grandson? Or some crackhead guardian ad litem?

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  2. Americans should demand scrutiny of guardianships that strip vulnerable but still capable people of their autonomy.

    Where’s OBL to hit us with a couple #democratsprotectthevulnerable and #freethebillionaires hashtags?

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  3. After spending millions of Britney’s earnings on himself for a second time, her father was quoted as saying, “Oops, I did it again.”

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  4. The conservatorship problem is a symptom, and one worth treating, but we should never allow the symptom to distract us from the disease: government.

    Since the early 1900’s, the US government has increasingly asserted its role as protector of the elderly. Social Security, medicare, public funded retirement homes, and conservatorships. All of these measures done in the name of “protecting the elderly” have in fact encouraged people planning for their future, and their families, to abdicate the most basic responsibilities.

    Caring for elderly family is hard- not just financially, but also emotionally as you see their steady decline. But politicians promising to ease these burdens merely undermine the familial bonds and personal responsibility that could solve for the vast majority of society’s elderly. And then charity could solve the rest.

    It is a fucking tragedy that our society has been deluded into thinking “compassion for grandma” means handing her care over to the bureaucratic nightmares that brought us the Drug War, Afghanistan, and the VA Health System. But here we are, and we need to spend more time calling attention to that.

    1. Amen. It became increasingly obvious to me that government is at the root of too many ills for it to be a coincidence, and I have concluded that government by its very nature is incapable of doing anything competently. Even violence, its core competency, is slow, poorly targeted, expensive, and not very effective.

      I don’t yet believe government couldn’t find something to do competently, but I haven’t seen it and don’t expect to ever see it.

  5. It’s almost time for harvest.

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