SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Disability rights activists and advocates for Britney Spears backed a
California proposal Wednesday to provide more protections for those under court-ordered
conservatorships, while promoting less-restrictive alternatives.
Their move came as the volatile Spears case again boiled over in a Los Angeles County courtroom.
The hearing to settle lingering issues in the aftermath of Spears’ conservatorship, which was terminated
in November, quickly descended into a series of angry accusations between attorneys for Spears and her
father, and the case appears headed for a long trial to determine the truth of allegations of misconduct
The case is Exhibit #1 for groups including Disability Voices United, Disability Rights California,
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, and Free Britney L.A. who say that what are known as
probate conservatorships are overused and misused in California.
They most often involve people with developmental or intellectual disabilities or those with age-related
issues like dementia or Alzheimer’s.
But the advocacy groups contend that conservatees like Spears can become trapped in a system that removes
their civil rights and the ability to advocate for themselves.
The Professional Fiduciary Association of California, which represents many of those appointed as
conservators, did not immediately comment, but said answers to many questions about the process can be
found at https://californiaconservatorshipfacts.com
"Conservatorships should be rare, and the last resort," said Judy Mark, president of Disability
Voices United, a Southern California advocacy group. "The default should be that people with
disabilities retain their rights and get support when they need it."
The groups backed legislation by Democratic Assemblyman Brian Maienschein that will also make it easier
to end conservatorships for people who want out.
They are promoting instead what are known as "supported decision-making" agreements as a less
restrictive alternative. They allow people with disabilities to choose someone to help them understand,
make and communicate their choices, but allow the person to still make the decision.
That option has already been adopted in Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Nevada,
North Dakota, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C., advocates said.
California law says conservatorships should only be ordered if a judge rules they are the least
restrictive alternative. But the advocates contend they are often imposed without examining other
Maienschein’s bill would require that before granting a conservatorship, judges first document that all
other alternatives including supported decision-making have been considered.
It would write supported decision-making into California law and back that alternative with grant
programs, training and technical assistance.
The bill also would make it easier to end probate conservatorships by mandating a periodic review,
including asking conservatees if they want to make the conservatorship less restrictive or end it
Conservators would also be required to consult with the conservatees and make decisions that reflect the
conservatee’s wishes or previously expressed preferences.
Before his election to the Legislature, Maienschein was a law clerk for a San Diego Superior Court judge
who oversaw conservatorships.
"I saw firsthand the role that the court plays in establishing conservatorships, and the potential
for abuse," he said during an online news conference. "The system in California is in
desperate need of reform."
He called Spears "arguably the world’s most famous conservatee," but said his bill would aid
the many others who don’t have "the benefit of worldwide fame to shine a light on her case."
Spears drew widespread attention to the issue, culminating in November when a Los Angeles judge ended the
conservatorship that controlled the pop singer’s life and money for nearly 14 years.
But the fallout continued at Wednesday’s hearing, when Spears’ attorney Mathew Rosengart objected to
Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny approving the many outstanding attorneys’ fees in the case until the
trial is held.
Rosengart repeated allegations from a New York Times documentary that James Spears bugged his daughter’s
phone and home, saying they were among many instances of "serious misconduct, potentially criminal
misconduct, on the part of Mr. Spears."
James Spears’ attorney Alex Weingarten said the accusations, along with allegations of financial
misdealing, are "all nonsense."
"Virtually everything that is alleged in those objections is either demonstrably false or out of
context," Weingarten said.
Weingarten plans to file a motion for a mass unsealing of documents from throughout the conservatorship,
saying "we need that truth to come out." Rosengart said he would object to this too.
Penny ordered the final transfer of Spears’ assets back to her from the court conservator, and ruled that
the November order terminating the conservatorship be sealed. She told the attorneys to return to court
in July, when she may decide to order the trial.
Britney Spears did not take part in the hearing.
"I believe that if AB1663 had been in effect 13 years ago, the court would have been unable to
conserve Britney Spears, and now Britney’s story lights the way for where changes in our laws need to be
made," said Mark, of Disability Voices United.
Advocates said it is unclear how many people are under conservatorships in California because the data
isn’t collected. They said Spears’ battle is an example of how conservatorships are too easily imposed
and too difficult to end.
She was a 26-year-old new mother who’d had several public mental health struggles during the height of
her career in 2008, when her father sought the conservatorship, at first on a temporary basis.
Spears was not present at the court hearing where her constitutional rights were assigned to her father,
nor were less-restrictive measures attempted before putting her under a conservatorship, said Free
Britney L.A. organizer Leanne Simmons.
It ended only after Spears engaged in a multiyear struggle, and after she won the right to pick her own
"While unique in many ways, it follows a very common pattern of exploitation within the probate
court system here in California," Simmons said.
AP Entertainment Writer Andrew Dalton contributed from Los Angeles.