Britney Spears may soon be released from the court ordered conservatorship that was imposed upon the Mickey Mouse Club star in 2008 after she was taken to a psychiatric hospital. It has been more than 10 years since the famous singer publicly shaved her head and reportedly hit rock bottom.
According to news reports, her father Jamie Spears has begun consulting with physicians about his daughter’s improved mental condition. But many others without Spears’ notoriety and earnings may never be freed.
“The court appointed attorneys for these individuals often fail to defend the rights of their clients and have sometimes surrendered their rights, such as the right to vote,” said Tom Coleman, founder of the Spectrum Institute in Los Angeles.
That’s because a court-ordered conservatorship, also known as a guardianship, prevents people like Spears, who may have mental, cognitive or physical disabilities, from making any personal or financial decisions without the approval of their court appointed attorney or guardian. In Britney’s case, her father controls the finances, including paying $20,000 a month to ex-husband Kevin Federline who recently requested an increase in monthly payouts for the support of their two children.
There are currently more than 1.5 million adults in the U.S. who are in court-ordered guardianships or conservatorships. Tens of thousands of new cases are filed each year. In these proceedings, judges take away the rights of adults to make basic life decisions, such as where to live or work, control over finances, medical choices, whether to marry, who to socialize with and even the right to vote.
“Court appointed attorneys are often under the control of the judges in the probate court who order the payment of their bills so the attorneys are incentivized to please the judge not their disabled clients, which creates a conflict of interest and a scenario for potential abuse and neglect,” Coleman told Newsmax Finance.
In an audit of 100 cases, Spectrum Institute research found that 90% of those under conservatorship in the state of California alone were no longer permitted to vote.
“This isn’t isolated,” said Coleman, civil rights attorney. “Across the nation, the elderly and people with disabilities placed under a court imposed conservatorship or guardianship are losing their right to vote and other rights.”
In response, the Spectrum Institute is filing class action complaints with the administrative dockets of the Supreme Courts of all 50 states, advocating for more oversight of the players in state operated guardianship systems.
So far, the supreme courts of Texas, Washington and California, have been open to dialogue about reform. In California, the right to vote was restored to wards of the State with the enactment of SB589 on January 1, 2016 but other states are behind the bell curve.
“Each state is independent,” Coleman said. “Each one does their own thing but every single one of them has a dysfunctional system that is violating the constitutional due process rights of the seniors and people with disabilities of all ages who they are supposed to be protecting.”
The recently released film the Pursuit of Justice, produced by the Spectrum Institute, documents exactly how guardianship and conservatorship are being manipulated to financially exploit and abuse the rights of vulnerable adults.
With any luck and the hard work of advocates like Coleman, more of the elderly and people with disabilities may follow Britney Spears’ footsteps to freedom.
Juliette Fairley is an author, lecturer and TV host based in New York.
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