ACLU, Disability Rights Orgs File Amicus Brief Urging Court to Allow Britney Spears to Select Her Attorney in Conservatorship Case

July 13, 2021 11:45 am

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LOS ANGELES — The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, with the support of 25 civil rights and disability rights organizations, filed an amicus brief with the Superior Court of Los Angeles County on Monday in support of Britney Spears’s right to select her own attorney for her conservatorship proceedings. The brief also urged the court to ensure Spears has access to assistance and tools, including supported decision-making, to make this choice.

Spears is currently under a probate conservatorship, a court-ordered legal status that strips people with disabilities of their civil liberties and grants other people called conservators the legal right to make decisions for them. Spears has been represented by a court-appointed attorney for most or all of the 13-year duration of her conservatorship. On June 23, during Spears’ testimony calling for an end to her conservatorship, she detailed being constantly surveilled, forced to use birth control in the form of an IUD, and confined against her will. She also told the court that she wishes to choose her own attorney. On July 6, Spears’s court-appointed attorney, Samuel D. Ingham III, asked to resign from her conservatorship case.

Often in conservatorships, judges appoint a lawyer to represent a conservatee without allowing the person under conservatorship any say in this decision. In the amicus brief, the ACLU and disability rights organizations argue that the right to choose one’s own attorney is a core element of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, and people under a conservatorship should be able to retain this right.

“Britney Spears has said that she wants to pick her own lawyer and the court should respect that wish,” said Zoë Brennan-Krohn, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Disability Rights Project. “The court should ensure Spears has access to the tools she needs to make that choice meaningfully and to hire someone she trusts to advocate for her stated goal: to get out of her conservatorship. Spears’ right to select an attorney is not only a basic tenet of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, but also consistent with principles of personal autonomy and agency. The California Superior Court must recognize Spears’ autonomy and the rights of people with disabilities to live independent, self-directed lives as active members of their communities.”

In a separate document also filed Monday, the ACLU and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California offered to provide supported decision-making assistance to help Spears select a replacement lawyer, if she wishes. Supported decision-making is a widely recognized approach to ensuring people with and without disabilities can make their own informed choices, typically with assistance from trusted advisors, mentors, friends, or professionals.

“Britney’s superstardom and wealth make this an atypical case, but she has described serious infringements on her civil liberties and dignity that are all too typical for people living under conservatorships and guardianships,” said Amanda Goad, Audrey Irmas director of the LGBTQ, Gender, & Reproductive Justice Project at the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. “It’s not just about Britney. We hope that offering supported decision-making to Britney Spears can serve as a model in other cases, because all people living with disabilities or under conservatorship deserve an opportunity to make their own informed choices.”

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