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Control of Britney Spears' life is her father's prerogative

A reluctant and overwhelmed Jamie Spears, who became her conservator 13 months ago, gives a court a glimpse into the pop star's troubled world.

February 25, 2009|Harriet Ryan

Entering his second hour on the witness stand, Britney Spears' father was the picture of resigned misery. His shoulders sagged like he was carrying buckets of cement. His suit jacket flapped open and his tie lay crookedly across his barrel chest. His eyes were puffy and cast down and his mouth drooped in the pronounced frown of a bulldog.

James Spears, a Louisiana native known everywhere but the courthouse as Jamie, earned his living as a cook until 13 months ago when his famous daughter was confined to a hospital psychiatric ward for the second time. A judge set up a conservatorship that gave him control of virtually every aspect of the singer's personal life as well as shared oversight of her business interests, an empire of music and marketing worth tens of millions.

For this 24-7 job, he gets $2,500 a week, a vehicle and, as described to a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge this week, a life of worry and exhaustion. Beyond the long meetings with lawyers, doctors, career advisors and a security team, there are difficult daily negotiations between a 27-year-old who seems to lunge at any chance for independence and a father who sees even an unsupervised text message as potentially dangerous.

"Sometimes she is allowed to use the cellphone and sometimes she is not," Jamie Spears told the court.

The well of revelations about Spears is never dry. No gossip blog cycle is complete without the purported inside scoop about Britney. The performer herself gave an extensive interview about her troubles to MTV late last year, and her mother, Lynne, who is divorced from Jamie, published a tell-all memoir a few months before that. But in a windowless courtroom, a realm of harsh lights, unavoidable questions and real consequences, Jamie Spears' halting testimony conjured a picture of his daughter that lacked the polish of a book and the tawdriness of a supermarket tabloid.

Although his demeanor on the witness stand conveyed a desire to be anywhere else, the proceeding underway in Judge Aviva Bobb's courtroom -- it resumes this morning -- comes at the insistence of Jamie Spears and a team of attorneys representing him and his daughter's estate. He is seeking restraining orders against three men who he says are trying to undermine significant improvements to his daughter's mental and physical health. But in his testimony, he suggested he was also battling the performer herself.

Last month, a nanny to Spears' two sons heard the singer in whispered conversation in "the wee hours of the morning," he told the judge. When Spears went to dance class, the head of her security team searched her purse and recovered a mobile phone, her father said. When he confronted her, he said she told him that someone had passed her the phone at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. The person, he said, told her that it was from two men he is seeking to restrain: her former confidant Osama "Sam" Lutfi and ex-boyfriend Adnan Ghalib.

Jamie Spears and his attorneys contend that the men and a third, an attorney who claimed last year that she hired him in a phone conversation, are trying to dissolve the conservatorship and carry her back to the period when dozens of paparazzi captured her bizarre public displays and a judge called her a "habitual" user of drugs and alcohol. Jamie Spears grappled with his own drinking problem before entering rehab in 2004. Court papers show it was his daughter who urged him to get help.

In his testimony, Jamie Spears said the illicit phone and records of her home phone indicated that his daughter had tried to call and send text messages to Ghalib and Lutfi.

Ghalib, a tabloid photographer whom Spears dated before her hospitalizations, has not answered the accusations. He was charged Tuesday with felony assault and other charges for allegedly ramming his Mercedes-Benz into a process server who delivered a notice of a temporary restraining order in January to his home. His lawyer did not return a call seeking comment.

Lutfi and the third man, attorney Jon Eardley, however, object to the temporary orders and are fighting the current attempt to extend them. A lawyer for Eardley, who has a practice in Whittier, said there was no need for a restraining order because his client never threatened Spears and has no plans to involve himself further in the case. "He was just trying to be a good Samaritan," said attorney Roger Jon Diamond.

Lutfi is a sometimes music and movie producer who Spears' parents allege used drugs and mind games to contribute to her psychological problems. A restraining order against him expired last summer after Lutfi said he would stay away from her. He is also suing Spears and her father and mother, alleging defamation, breach of contract and other charges.

Jamie Spears leveled his harshest criticism at Lutfi, calling him "a predator." He contrasted her current state -- "very wonderful" -- with the period in which Lutfi was always by her side and her career was "pretty much a disaster."

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