Throughout the course of Britney Spears’ months-long emotional tailspin, one universal question has lingered with each spectacular turn: Why doesn’t her family take drastic measures to stop this?
On Friday, they did.
Spears’ father, James Spears, was put in charge of the troubled pop star’s welfare during a surprise court appearance by him and mother Lynne Spears, a day after their daughter was whisked to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.
Just as Spears’ immediate family was taking charge of her life, Sam Lutfi, the man seen escorting her about town and sometimes speaking on her behalf, was removed from the picture with a restraining order. A message left on Lutfi’s cell phone seeking comment was not immediately returned.
James Spears’ eyes grew teary when he was named conservator of his daughter. He and an attorney, Andrew Wallet, were named conservators of the estate. The parents sat with attorney Blair Berk throughout the hearing, smiling and embracing after the announcement.
The events of the past two days were the first positive signs that Spears may have reached a turning point in a downward spiral of bizarre behavior — all of it captured by paparazzi lenses — that has resulted in her losing custody of and visitation rights with her two young sons.
Spears was taken early Thursday by paramedics with a heavy police escort to UCLA Medical Center’s psychiatric hospital. There was no account or description of the young star’s actual condition during the hearing.
A court creates conservatorships when it determines that a person cannot care for themselves or handle their affairs. Commissioner Reva Goetz said Spears would be under conservatorship until Monday, at which time another hearing would be held.
“It is in the best interests of the conservatee to have conservatorship over her person,” Goetz told a packed courtroom.
As conservator, her father will have the power to “restrict visitors,” have around-the-clock security for Spears and have access to all medical records, Goetz said. It was unclear whether the court gave her father the power to make medical decisions on Spears’ behalf; even if that was granted, the role can be limited.
Conservators can consult with doctors on medication options, but the patient can refuse. Only in emergencies can someone be forcefully treated. Otherwise, a court hearing must be scheduled to hammer out the issue.
“Being a conservator does not give them the power to force medication,” said Nancy Kincaid, a spokeswoman with the California Department of Mental Health.
The court also issued a restraining order against Lutfi, Spears’ sometime manager and friend, and gave her father permission to change the locks on her estate and remove anyone who is there.
Goetz said conservatorship over the estate was “necessary and appropriate.” She gave approval for the conservator to “take all actions to secure all liquid assets including credit cards.”
Dr. Mark Goulston, a Los Angeles psychiatrist who is not involved in the case, said he was not surprised by the ruling, given Spears’ increasingly erratic behavior and what appear to have been periodic and unsuccessful efforts at rehabilitation.
Although placing people in conservatorships is not unusual, Goulston said, courts usually look long and hard at the evidence before putting a person in one.
“You have to really make a case before someone is allowed to become a conservator, so I would conclude her judgment is fairly impaired,” he said.
The court, which rejected a request to hold the hearing without news media present, did not immediately rule on another request to seal all documents. Goetz said she would rule on Monday, and court spokesman Allan Parachini said the papers would remain sealed until then.
The conservatorship was approved by a different court from the one handling a custody dispute over the singer’s children with Federline. A hearing on custody issues is set Monday morning in that court.