Pop superstar Britney Spears on Wednesday again called for an end to her father's control over the conservatorship that handles her personal life and business affairs, tearfully telling a Los Angeles court that the years-long arrangement is “abuse".
Her phone-in testimony was the latest salvo in the long-running case, which had gained new urgency after the 39-year-old singer's testimony on June 23, in which she pleaded with a judge to allow her to end the conservatorship and choose her own lawyer.
That testimony ramped up worldwide interest in a case that was already the subject of a frenzied #FreeBritney campaign spearheaded by her adoring fans, a few hundred of whom gathered outside the Los Angeles County Superior Court.
During the hearing, Judge Brenda Penny accepted the resignations of her previous attorneys and signalled she would accept Spears's new choice, Mathew Rosengart, to represent her.
Mr Rosengart told AFP on the sidelines of the hearing that he would file a petition “as soon as possible” to remove Jamie Spears as the conservator — and suggested the singer's father should simply step down.
“We will be filing a petition as soon as possible to move Mr Spears, subject to our formal retention,” said Mr Rosengart, a former federal prosecutor who has previously represented the likes of Steven Spielberg and Sean Penn.
“As I said in open court, a very fair question is: why is Mr Spears not voluntarily stepping down? He does not belong in this conservatorship any more. And we believe he should voluntarily step down immediately.”
Spears, speaking to the court via telephone, was at turns angry and upset — and used the occasional expletive — as she said she wanted to “press charges” against her father.
“If the court doesn't see this as abuse … I don't know what is,” the singer said.
“I want investigations done on him,” she added, even suggesting she may want a restraining order put in place against him.
Spears, who rocketed to fame in her teenagers, suffered a highly public 2007 breakdown — when the shaven-headed star attacked a paparazzo's car at a gas station.
The following year, a California court placed her under a unique legal guardianship largely governed by her father, Jamie.
Spears swiftly returned to performing after that, released three albums, appeared on various television shows and even took up a Las Vegas residency.
But in January 2019, she abruptly announced she was suspending her performances until further notice.
And then last month, the singer made an impassioned plea for her situation to change, alleging that she had been prevented from having a contraceptive IUD removed, despite wanting more children, and forcefully put on medication that made her feel “drunk".
Spears said she had been made to perform shows under threat of lawsuit and that she was not even allowed to change her clothes in privacy or drive her own car.
“I just want my life back. It's been 13 years and it's enough,” she said.
Since that hearing, many of the central figures in the complex network installed to manage Spears's affairs have distanced themselves.
Samuel Ingham, the lawyer appointed by court soon after her breakdown — asked to step down from his role.
So, too, has the financial management company that was set to assume joint control of Spears's estate with her father, who remains in place despite a petition filed last year for his removal.
Judge Penny accepted both those requests on Wednesday.
Spears's long-time manager Larry Rudolph has also resigned.
The singer has had lots of public support, from fans chanting outside the courtroom to messages from her musical peers Christina Aguilera and Madonna.
At a small demonstration on the Mall in Washington, 34-year-old Patrick Thomas, head of the recently formed Free Britney America group, called the singer's situation “archaic".
“This is not just about Britney alone. This is about every other person who is trapped in one of these, what I would call a prison,” said Mr Thomas, whose group is pushing for a congressional hearing and federal oversight of conservatorships.
Judge Penny's approval of Spears's new counsel, pending formal confirmation, is a major victory for the star.
“I haven't really had the opportunity by my own self to actually handpick my own lawyer by myself. And I would like to be able to do that,” Spears told the court last month.
“I would like to also — the main reason why I'm here — is because I want to end the conservatorship without having to be evaluated,” she said.