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Britney Spears officially freed from conservatorship


Yesterday, a courthouse in downtown Los Angeles, #FreeBritney became more than a hashtag. Britney Spears was finally released from the conservatorship that had controlled her life and livelihood. That situation had attracted attention from social media to the halls of Congress. NPR's Mandalit del Barco was inside the courtroom when the decision was made.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Outside the LA courthouse, Britney Spears fans cheered and danced.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Free, free Britney.


DEL BARCO: Many of them wore bright pink in honor of the 39-year-old pop star. In bright pink chalk they wrote Free Britney in big letters on the street. They left notes to her tied to a bright pink Christmas tree, and they popped open cans of bright pink confetti to celebrate her independence.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Unintelligible).


DEL BARCO: Some fans had come as far as Mexico and Brazil to cheer. Among them were Martino Odeh from Phoenix and Stephanie Lewis from North Hollywood.

STEPHANIE LEWIS: We're just, like, reeling - like, so ecstatic and so happy.

MARTINO ODEH: We're ecstatic. We're ecstatic. We love her.

LEWIS: Yeah.

ODEH: We want her to be so happy and do whatever she wants. She deserves the world.

LEWIS: Protect her at all costs.

ODEH: Protect Britney Spears. She's a treasure.

DEL BARCO: Thirteen years ago, Britney Spears was put into a conservatorship after going through a very difficult personal period in her life, very much in the public eye. Her father, Jamie Spears, was appointed as her conservator, controlling her finances. Another conservator, Jodi Montgomery, was put in charge of her health and well-being.

This went on for years, but this past summer, Spears finally spoke out in a phone call to the court that got leaked about how this legal arrangement was, in her words, toxic. She said she wanted to have more children but wasn't allowed, and all the money she was making through albums, tours and Las Vegas shows was being controlled by her father. Several recent documentaries fueled the #FreeBritney movement.

During yesterday's hearing, Judge Brenda Penny agreed to completely terminate the conservatorship, something all the parties - Britney Spears, her father and Montgomery - had asked for. The judge said Spears would not have to submit a declaration of her capacity. There was one caveat, though. The certified public accountant recently appointed to her will be kept on a bit longer to transfer all the money from her assets into a trust.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE #1: (Chanting) Hey, hey. Ho, ho. The conservatorship has got to go.

DEL BARCO: There are more than a million adults in this country estimated to be under the kind of legal arrangement Britney Spears had - people with far less wealth, fame and connections.

POPPY HELGREN: Thank God, you know, there's a celebrity involved and it has brought attention to it.

DEL BARCO: Outside the courthouse, Poppy Helgren, a registered nurse, said she wasn't allowed to care for her father when he was put into a conservatorship. During that time, she says, the Korean War veteran lost his four homes and his fortune.

HELGREN: There's a lot of us that are activists against crooked conservatorships. It needs to be stopped. It needs to be changed. My father was abused by estate trafficking under a California conservatorship, and he died this year, and it has still not been resolved.

DEL BARCO: Britney Spears' attorney, Mathew Rosengart, told her fans that as a result of her courage, Congress is now trying to ensure people are not abused by conservatorships.


MATHEW ROSENGART: If this happened to Britney, it can happen to anybody.


DEL BARCO: Britney Spears wasn't at the courtroom in person, but after the news, she tweeted a video of her cheering fans and she said she loved them. I think I'm going to cry the rest of the day, she tweeted - best day ever. And she ended with a new hashtag, #FreedBritney.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.