LOS ANGELES (AP) — Britney Spears' independence day may finally have arrived.
A judge will decide Friday at a hearing in downtown Los Angeles whether to end the conservatorship that has exercised vast control over the pop superstar's life and money for nearly 14 years.
With no significant opposition from anyone involved, it appears likely that Judge Brenda Penny will dissolve the legal arrangement. Spears' attorney, her parents and the court appointees who control the conservatorship all publicly support the move.
But Penny has given no overt signals about what she will decide, and she has considerable discretion. Legal or bureaucratic hurdles, or lingering concerns over Spears' medical care or finances, could still slow down what might seem like the inevitable end.
It was not clear whether Spears, 39, will take part in the hearing. Fans who have demanded that the court #FreeBritney, whom she has credited with bringing her to this point, gathered outside the courthouse, wearing shirts with the singer's image and writing a massive “Free Britney” message in chalk across a major street closed for their demonstration.
Fans also brought a hot pink Christmas tree, hanging supportive messages like “Wish you peace and happiness. The world loves you” and "You deserve freedom, love, happiness and all the blessings EVER!” Dancers dressed like Spears from several of her music videos performed on a stage erected outside the courthouse doors.
Ebony Matiere, a 33-year-old Spears fan from San Dimas, California, was among the attendees. She said while she was expecting Spears to be released from court oversight Friday, she knew there was a chance that might not happen yet.
But when it does, Matiere said, “I’m hoping that she gets her power back.
“She’s been getting it little by little, and she’s remembering that she’s Britney Spears.”
Penny sided decisively with Spears and her attorney, Mathew Rosengart, at the last hearing in September, when she suspended the singer's father, James Spears, from the conservatorship that he had controlled at least in part since he first sought it in 2008.
The judge made no finding of wrongdoing against James Spears, saying only that a “toxic environment” made the move necessary.
“The current situation is untenable,” Penny said.
Jodi Montgomery, the conservator who oversees the singer’s life and medical decisions, has developed a care plan with her therapists and doctors to guide her through the end of the conservatorship and its aftermath.
Prior to the September hearing, James Spears reversed course and supported terminating the conservatorship. Rosengart argued that he should be suspended and have no role in the legal arrangement's endgame.
Rosengart has vowed to pursue an investigation of James Spears' handling of the conservatorship even after it ends. The attorney said he planned to take a “top-to-bottom look” at the elder Spears' actions and suggested that law enforcement should investigate revelations in a New York Times documentary about a listening device placed in his daughter’s bedroom.
James Spears’ attorneys said Rosengart’s allegations ranged from unsubstantiated to impossible, and that he only ever acted in his daughter’s best interest.
The post-conservatorship fight has in some ways already begun. James Spears has parted ways with the attorneys who helped him operate it, and has hired Alex Weingarten, a lawyer specializing in the kind of litigation that may be coming.
In court filings last week, Britney Spears' former business manager, Tri Star Sports and Entertainment Group, pushed back against Rosengart's demands for documents on the firm's involvement in the conservatorship from 2008 to 2018. The group also denied any role in or knowledge of any surveillance of the singer.
As recently as six months ago, it appeared that the conservatorship would continue indefinitely. It has since unraveled with surprising speed.
Key was a speech Britney Spears' made at a June hearing, in which she passionately detailed restrictions and scrutiny of her life that she called “abusive.”
She demanded that the conservatorship end without any prying evaluation of her mental state.
Legal experts at the time said that was unlikely to happen, and would represent an aberration from common court practice.
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Andrew Dalton on Twitter: https://twitter.com/andyjamesdalton