Britney Spears' plight reveals the justice system's bias against those who live with mental illness

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Salon 16 July, 2021 - 03:01pm 4 views

Why is Britney Spears in a conservatorship?

Britney was put under conservatorship following her very public breakdown in 2008. Following a year of seemingly erratic behavior—such as shaving her head and attacking a paparazzo's car with an umbrella—the singer was put under a "5150 hold" in a psychiatric hospital for a mental health evaluation. HarpersBAZAAR.comWhat Is the "Free Britney" Movement? - Britney Spears's Conservatorship Details

Who is Matthew Rosengart?

Who is Mathew Rosengart? Rosengart is a partner at the law firm GreenbergTaurig, according to his LinkedIn. He has worked there since 2011. For his undergrad studies, Rosengart attended Tulane University, where he made the dean's list. Page SixWho is Britney Spears' new attorney, Mathew Rosengart?

What is conservatorship abuse?

While there are a variety of ways that an elderly individual may be abused or exploited, one of the most common types involves financial exploitation. A common way for an individual to take advantage of an older individual is to become his or her conservator, or guardian. peckbloom.comWhat is Conservatorship Abuse?

In a similar vein, Spears' new layer, Mathew Rosengart, told the court on Wednesday that he hopes Spears' father will prove he loves her by stepping aside. Either way, Rosengart expressed serious doubts as to whether it was ever appropriate for Spears to be put into conservatorship.

Salon spoke with experts who all said the same thing: There are too many people in conservatorships right now, but the victims don't have a voice. Many echoed concern about the decision to put Spears in conservatorship in the first place.

"I think that Britney absolutely did the right thing in seeking mental health treatment; it's just that I don't think immediately going for a conservatorship was the right answer," Haley Moss, an autism advocate and the first openly autistic female attorney in Florida history, told Salon. "I think it was very predatory on behalf of her father."

While some of the people who supported that decision probably had good intentions, Moss added, "what people don't realize about conservatorships and guardianships is the very permanent nature of them. They're very difficult to get out of, as we've been seeing we're 13 years down the line here, and Britney Spears still is not out of it."

She added, "Just imagine that knowing that how difficult it must be for your average disabled person."

Shira Wakschlag, senior director of legal advocacy and general counsel at The Arc — an organization that helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities — told Salon that one of the problems in the Spears case, and for disabled people more generally (it is unclear whether Spears herself is disabled due to mental health issues), is that they simply are not taken seriously. This is evident in the fact that Spears is merely asserting basic constitutional rights, like being able to choose her own counsel or make choices about her own body, and has to go to such lengths to convince people to receive them.

"One of the guiding principles of the work of The Arc, and in general, of the disability advocacy community is that people with disabilities must be presumed competent," Wakschlag explained. "Of course you would assume someone is competent to assess whether [they can] make their own decisions, or make their decisions with assistance, or do other things with assistance. But actually that's an important principle to state and guide our advocacy because it's often not presumed, whether by the general public or courts or in other settings."

Anna Krieger, senior attorney at the Center for Public Representation, said that this distrust toward people with mental illnesses is compounded by a system that is biased toward medical professionals.

"The scales are tipped towards trusting doctors, towards trusting experts, and not trusting the words of the people who have the living experience of either having a mental health disability or being labeled as having a mental health disability," Krieger observed. "Those are the folks who are the experts in their own lives."

Krieger recalled cases in which her clients tried to get released from involuntary detention at hospitals. Her clients could often explain in great detail how they could take care of themselves but were ignored because they would display their mental illness.

"They were having symptoms, something like a hallucination or some other symptom of their mental illness, and that was given more importance than the very fact that mattered under the law, which was the client telling the judge, 'I can take care of myself,'" Krieger noted. "So I really do think there's a deference to doctors in our system overall that needs some unpacking."

Wakschlag pointed out that there are alternatives to conservatorships and guardianships for people with disabilities who need help. The Arc recently released a statement with other disability rights groups (including the Center for Public Representation) advocating for one of those alternatives: supported decision-making.

"That's become a more widely recognized less restrictive alternative to guardianship that can be utilized by anyone who is facing a restriction on their rights," Wakschlag explained. "Also it can be used within a guardianship or conservatorship to help ensure that the person is having the least restrictive restriction on their rights." It allows people who need assistance in managing aspects of their own lives to choose people they trust as supporters who can advise them as they make important life choices. This ensures that disabled individuals still have their decision-making autonomy, which is denied under abusive conservatorships.

"The big issue with conservatorship, and guardianship more broadly, is that a lot of folks can lose civil rights," Moss told Salon, listing everything from the right to vote and choose where you live to your ability to get a driver's license. "When we're talking about abuse here, the thing is that at least for people with psychiatric disabilities, it's important to see is that guardians and conservators may not may not always act in the conservatee or the ward's best interest." In Spears' case, that is compounded by the fact she has a lot of money and assets.

"You also just don't have a lot of oversight from courts," Moss said. "Conservatorship and guardianship proceedings are typically confidential and private. So the fact that we have as much access to what's going on in Britney's case, it's very unusual."

Likewise, there is little public knowledge as to the extent to which conservatorships and guardianships are being abused. The necessary statistics simply aren't there.

"One of the systemic challenges with this broader issue is that we really lack good data on it," Wakschlag observed. "I think that's one of the keys, getting more data to have a better understanding of how many guardianships and conservatorships are out there. Making sure that monitoring systems are in place, and that rights reviews are in place, and due process protections are in place. Most state laws, or pretty much all states, do have a number of rights protections in place, but it's also sometimes a question of whether those rights are being enforced." Similarly states need to make sure that the institutions it has in place to help disabled people are accessible to them.

"Is it actually something that people with disabilities can access and utilize?" Wakschlag asked. "A lack of data makes it somewhat challenging to have a clear picture."

Yet the Spears case is not merely an example of someone who previously had a mental illnesses not being taken at their word. Spears is a woman and, unfortunately, is also facing prejudice because of sexism.

"There is this stereotype that women are 'crazy,' and I'm not capable of handling stress or adult responsibility to the same extent that men are," Salon's Amanda Marcotte explained when discussing the 2008 public "meltdown" that landed Spears in a conservatorship. "Her cracking up was taken as proof of this notion. But in reality, I don't think anybody could have really held it together under that level of stress. And the fact of the matter is we see men in Hollywood have mental episodes all the time, and it's rarely held against them in any kind of permanent capacity as evidence that they are incapable of being an adult who makes adult decisions for the rest of their lives."

"When Britney was younger we expected her to be very mature, very grown up, very much ahead of her time," Moss recalled. "Now that she's older and she's under a conservatorship, we're treating her like a little kid. And yet we treated her like a grown woman when she was a little kid. That to me just is completely baffling and shows so much about how we also treat women. We expect women to act older, to be more mature. And then we also treat them like less at times too, once they are older and more mature."

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

Read full article at Salon

Maureen Callahan: Britney Spears' freedom is in sight thanks to an astonishing turn of events

Fox News 16 July, 2021 - 07:00pm

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Jonna Spilbor, criminal defense attorney, argues the pop star will finally 'have a voice' in the conservatorship case.

It’s a victory for Britney

In a move that augurs well for her freedom, a judge ruled Wednesday that Spears can appoint her own lawyer. 

Just three weeks ago, such an outcome might have seemed unthinkable to Spears, who testified in open court that her life under conservatorship is absolute hell. 

"I have an IUD in my body right now they won’t let me take out," Spears said. She spoke of being drugged into submission, forced to work against her will, and having every minute detail of her life — the choice of her own kitchen cabinets, for example — dictated by a father she calls abusive.

"Ma’am, my dad and anyone involved in this conservatorship, and my management, who played huge roles in punishing me when I said ‘no’ [to going on tour] — ma’am, they should be in jail." 

In the short time since, Britney Spears has been able to do what no modern president has: quickly forge a bipartisan effort that is fully united.  

The fact remains it is way easier to be placed under conservatorship — to have all your inalienable rights taken from you — than it is to be freed from one. Britney Spears may be the historical figure to change all that. 

The unholy alliance of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. — the latter bizarrely showing up outside Wednesday’s hearing — is due to Britney’s plea. The ACLU filed an amicus brief supporting her. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, of all people, called Britney’s conservatorship "freaking ridiculous" and something that "needs to end." 

The New York Times and NPR have joined forces with TMZ to Free Britney. 

A nation emerging from lockdown is with Britney. This is a nearly 40-year-old woman with a $60 million empire, so micromanaged that, according to The New Yorker, she has had to arrange clandestine methods to obtain unmonitored cellphones to literally call for help. 

Such action, by the way — aside from the global tour and the stint on "The X Factor" and the four-year-long Vegas residency — shows that Britney Spears is quite capable of executive motor functioning. 

So why should her father, who Britney said "has made me feel like death," remain in charge of every aspect of her life? 

"I don’t know why she still has a conservatorship," one of Britney’s three original evaluating psychiatrists told The New Yorker. 

It’s true that we don’t know everything that led to the original order way back in 2008, nor do we know the details of her struggles — such as they may or may not be — today. 

But the fact remains it is way easier to be placed under conservatorship — to have all your inalienable rights taken from you — than it is to be freed from one. Britney Spears may be the historical figure to change all that. 

"You might think that I won’t make it on my own," she famously sang, "but now I’m stronger than yesterday/Now it’s nothing but my way." 

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Ted Cruz and Matt Gaetz are the last people who should be talking about #FreeBritney

Mic 16 July, 2021 - 01:35pm

For a case that only stands to have one victor if she prevails, the fight to end Britney Spears's 13-year abusive conservatorship has the public interest in a frenzy. From what was originally a hashtag used to organize small protests of "five to ten" people, as L.A. organizers referenced of their first gatherings, now the fight is on Washington's doorstep, and the #FreeBritney America organization has been officially founded.

Spears's plight has drawn important attention to the misuse of conservatorships, making the legal battle a fascinating intersection of pop culture and politics. But with the public and celebrities en masse showing support for the pop icon, now problematic politicians are weighing in just for the good press, and it's gross.

It's hard to forget the events of 2020 in Washington, when lawmakers couldn't agree on how to help people during a global pandemic. During that time, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was one of the most vocal anti-stimulus senators, and proudly blocked progress on infrastructure legislation and regulations that would prevent our worsening climate crisis.

But what does Ted Cruz absolutely fucking love? An easy PR blitz. I'd like to take this opportunity to remind everyone of one of my all time favorite things to exist on the internet, the Ted Cruz queso clip.

Yes, that is Cruz at a Texas cheese competition admitting that he likes to eat queso off of tortilla chips and let it dribble down his chin like the fucking lizard person that he is. And another thing Cruz has now admitted to, with the same tone as a man who will continue to make us endure his presidential bids, is wanting Britney free. He said on his podcast The Verdict With Ted Cruz (I guess someone needs to fill Rush Limbaugh's bloated shoes), "I'm squarely and unequivocally in the camp of Free Britney. I think this is freaking ridiculous what is happening to Britney Spears, and it needs to end."

This, of course, is coming from a man who just last September was trying to have abortion pills outlawed by the FDA, even in the case of life-threatening situations for the mother. The hypocrisy of a man wanting to free a woman from a conservatorship — where one of the abuses revealed in court is the fact that she has had sterilization forced upon her via an IUD — when he very much supports dangerous legislation that robs women of the freedom to control their own bodies, is proof that everything that comes out of his mouth is just an evil fart.

And then cue walking political disaster Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who apparently thinks that even though he's currently at the center of a sex trafficking investigation, someone might still want to see him show up at a Free Britney rally. Gaetz joined protesters outside a Los Angeles courthouse this week and got in front of reporters to say, "Britney's been abused by the media, she's been abused by a grifter father, and she has been abused by the American justice system." He added what was unfortunately a hit with the crowd because it's true: "There's a lot that still divides us, but one thing we can all agree on is that Jamie Spears is a dick."

But more infuriatingly, Gaetz is a similar offender to Cruz in that he is ardently anti-choice (they call it pro-life, but when women could die due to the laws they want to put in place, I refuse to get on board with that colloquially). He also said this, and I don't even know where to begin to unpack the racist and disgusting ideas this man espouses:

While ending the unfair and dangerous abuse of conservatorships is important work that legislators should legislate, the fact of the matter is that what men like Ted Cruz and Matt Gaetz want to do to women will do more nationwide harm (especially to poor women and women of color) than what a privileged woman like Spears is going through and getting extreme support to escape. While I also adamantly agree Britney Spears must be freed of her guardianship, the women that Cruz and Gaetz want to trap in a system of reproductive injustice will not have wealthy lawyers and cute PR moments on their side — and these disingenuous press moments can't hide that.

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