New Britney Spears documentary paints dark picture of early legal fight for control of singer's life
Associates speak of going to great lengths to help singer obtain her own lawyer
The latest documentary about pop star Britney Spears recalls the complicated legal battle the singer faced after her father began controlling her life under a conservatorship set up in 2008, and some of the people who tried to help her regain control.
Britney vs. Spears, by director Erin Lee Carr and journalist Jenny Eliscu is a 90-minute production that Netflix aired for the first time on Tuesday.
In one of its bombshell revelations, Eliscu, who has written numerous times about Spears for Rolling Stone magazine, reveals how she became more of a "Good Samaritan" than a journalist in early 2009 when she tried to help the singer hire her own lawyer, to replace one the court had appointed.
The effort began after she talked to Sam Lutfi, who became Spears's manager after meeting her in a nightclub shortly before she was put under the conservatorship that gave Jamie Spears the legal right to oversee and make decisions about the singer's finances, health and personal life.
Two male friends were 'persona non grata'
Lutfi came up with a plan along with another friend of the singer's, Adnan Ghalib, to draw up paperwork for Spears to sign for a court filing. Ghalib was a photographer the singer had befriended in 2007 while in the middle of her divorce from Kevin Federline. Spears and Ghalib dated for about a year.
By 2009, Lutfi and Ghalib were "persona non grata," Eliscu says. "They had been completely forbidden from having access to Britney," so the journalist stepped in to deliver paperwork aimed at securing new legal counsel.
Eliscu says she met with Spears in the bathroom of a Los Angeles hotel on Jan. 21, 2009, and then passed the paperwork to the singer from beneath one of the stalls.
Thwarted in attempt to choose legal counsel
At the outset of the conservatorship, in early February 2008, Spears tried to retain trial lawyer Adam Streisand to represent her, instead of the court-appointed Sam Ingham, described by another lawyer in the documentary as seemingly ineffectual over the years in gaining more liberties for the singer.
But after Streisand came to court to make it official, a judge in Los Angeles told him the singer could not hire her own lawyer.
"When I told the judge what Britney wanted, the judge said, 'I have a report that says she does not have the capacity to retain counsel and have an attorney-client relationship,' " he says.
Dementia given as reason for legal arrangement
In another bombshell moment, although previously reported, the filmmakers talk about one of the court documents they obtained, filed at the start of the conservatorship, explaining what kind of impairment a potential conservatee might have.
The document shows a ticked box beside the words "orders related to dementia placement or treatment."
People have described Jamie Spears as "intimidating," Carr says in the documentary. She further disparages him as a man with "financial mismanagement of his own life."
'Hybrid business model'
In one court document offered up to viewers, Jamie Spears appears to justify generous compensation as part of overseeing a conservatorship.
"This conservatorship should be viewed more as a hybrid business model. If declarant performed the same services, with the same results, in a business setting, his fees would have been in the millions of dollars," the document reads.
In late 2008, Britney wrote a letter, in third-person narrative, mentioning her generosity to her family, and how "people controlling her life have made $3 million this year."
Carr said the documentary was two and a half years in the making. The Los Angeles Times says Carr did not collaborate with Spears, but the director wanted the film to be "the definitive place to understand the beginning, middle and hopefully what we will find out as the end of this saga."
Britney vs. Spears is the third documentary released this year detailing the 39-year-old singer's legal to fight to dissolve the conservatorship.
Framing Britney Spears, released in February, documented her rise to fame and sought to expose the media's portrayal of the singer as intrusive, mocking and condescending, and at times declaring she was on the edge of a mental breakdown after she filed for divorce from Federline in late 2006, leading to a difficult custody battle in 2007.
The sequel Controlling Britney Spears, which premiered Sept. 24, focused on her father and others who ran the conservatorship, and included allegations that she has been under intense surveillance.
Jamie Spears agreed to step down as a conservator of his daughter's estate in August.
Spears will have her own lawyer, legally approved over the summer, when the case to dissolve the legal arrangement returns to court in Los Angeles on Wednesday.