Fans who listened to Britney Spears’ conservatorship hearing last month will need to find another way to get updates on the pop star’s next hearing Wednesday.
Spears dialed in via phone to her last hearing and Los Angeles courts allowed many people to listen in — but what they didn’t prepare for was an onslaught of people recording and then distributing Spears’ testimony.
Technically, recording and/or presenting trial material like Spears’ testimony to the public without a judge’s permission is illegal under California Code of Civil Procedure section 1209. While it’s unclear if anyone who recorded Spears’ remarks will face consequences, L.A. County courts quickly and quietly took steps to ensure the contents of future hearings aren’t leaked.
Judge Brenda Penny asked people in the courtroom to limit themselves to pen and paper notes with no laptops or live-tweeting, during the hearing. Still, audio from Spears’ bombshell testimony went viral almost instantly and a full transcript was posted shortly afterward.
The LA. County Superior Court issued an announcement June 28 that effectively ended the Remote Audio Attendance Program (RAAP, for short). The program was useful during earlier months of the COVID-19 pandemic because it allowed people an option to safely attend their hearings not in-person. But partly because of the Spears hearing — and because coronavirus restrictions are lifting as more Angelenos get vaccinated — the RAAP program is now kaput.
One unexpected tidbit from the June 28 statement is that the court said it actually anticipated the RAAP system would somehow be abused. “The Court implemented this temporary program during the pandemic recognizing there may be abuses of the Court’s orders prohibiting recording, filming, and distribution of proceedings,” the announcement read. “Widespread breaches by the public in a recent court proceeding highlighted the need to return to in person, open courtroom proceedings, which is a welcome development.”
The ending of the RAAP program doesn’t mean there won’t be reporters allowed in the courtroom, though — they will still be taking copious notes and it’s likely a transcript of some form will still be released after the hearing.
Spears may not actually show up (virtually) to this week’s hearing. It’s expected to mostly address the departure of Spears’ money management firm and court-appointed attorney from the case.
Bessemer Trust is a wealth management firm that Spears requested replace her father, Jamie Spears, as the conservator of her estate back in September. The judge allowed the “independent financial fiduciary” to serve as co-conservator, but that’s not lasting long.
Now Bessemer Trust is looking to leave the conservatorship after finding out that Spears didn’t consent to having her funds managed or really any other part of the conservatorship. The bank filed a petition to withdraw from the conservatorship July 1, and Judge Penny is expected decide to either allow or reject their claim this Wednesday.
Spears is also in need of a new legal representative, after her court-appointed attorney Samuel D. Ingham III vacated his post July 6. The hearing is expected to at least begin figuring out how that will work — Spears wasn’t previously allowed to choose her own counsel under the conservatorship’s restrictions, but she adamantly requested to pick her own lawyer in her last court appearance.
The court will need to decide if Spears can retain counsel of her choosing, or if not, which court-appointed lawyer will take Ingham’s place. But it’s not clear if that decision will be made during the hearing or in the future.