Britney Spears’ Former Manager Sam Lutfi Has Been Granted A Restraining Order, But What Is #FreeBritney All About?

Rumours are running wild that Britney Spears’ recent ‘decision’ to spend time in a psychiatric facility was not her own. Jessica Barrett investigates whether the star’s freedom and happiness are being compromised...

Britney Spears

by Jessica Barrett |
Updated on

UPDATE 9/5: In the midst of the social media #FreeBritney campaign, Britney Spears’ legal team have taken out a temporary restraining order against former manager Sam Lutfi. The order, which means Lutfi must stay at least 200 yards away from the popstar, has been granted, with Spears’ camp claiming that he is trying to undermine Britney’s conservatorship, where she has been under the care of her father, Jamie, since 2008.

It is alleged that Lutfi has been contacting Britney’s mother by text - in an attempt to ‘disrupt the conservatorship’ - after she was checked into a mental health facility in March. The Guardian reports that restraining orders have been taken out against Lutfi in 2008 and 2009, with the singer’s team accusing that he drugged Britney, controlled her phone usage and tried to control her financial assets. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Marc S. Gans, Lutfi's lawyer, issued a statement to E! News, saying, ‘We are disappointed in the results. We feel this is overly broad and violates Mr. Lutfi's constitutional rights. This is only temporary and we look forward to arguing the matter more fully at the hearing for a more permanent restraining order on May 28.’

30/4: It is an uncomfortable truth that Britney Spears’ mental health has now become more widely discussed than her music. For 12 years, since her very public breakdown in 2007, which saw her detained under an involuntary psychiatric hold, one of the world’s most famous pop singers has seen her personal lows documented forensically – not just by tabloids but by fans who run forums and fan accounts dedicated to her.

Since 2008, Britney’s life has been ruled by a ‘conservatorship’, which has meant her father Jamie Spears, 66, has had the legal power to make personal and professional decisions for his 37-year-old daughter: from whether she performs 248 live shows in Las Vegas (as part of her four-year Piece Of Me residency) to whether she can drive her own car (which she has not been permitted to do since 2008).

The recent news that Britney had entered a ‘wellness facility’ in California last month to look after herself following a stressful few weeks, during which her father Jamie was said to have been taken suddenly ill when his colon ruptured, had been initially met by positive reports. The conservatorship was not said to be the reason Britney was seeking help – instead, we were told, this was all her own idea so she could look after herself.

On 17 April, however, this was thrown into doubt. Pop culture podcast Britney’s Gram, run by LA writers Tess Barker and Babs Gray, claimed to have a recording by an unnamed former paralegal who worked for Britney’s legal team. In the voicemail left for the podcast, the paralegal – who said he had left the law firm two weeks previously – said, ‘What is happening is disturbing to say the least.’

He added, ‘Britney was in rehearsals for Domination [her forthcoming Las Vegas residency, which has now been postponed]. It came to her father’s attention that she wasn’t taking her medication as prescribed. They got her to the doctor, he tried to change medication and she refused to take it. He said, if you don’t take it the show is off. [ Jamie] pulled the show, and verbatim said “blame it on my illness”, which is what we did with the January Instagram post [in which Britney announced that the residency was postponed].’

The paralegal went on to claim that Britney had actually been at a psychiatric facility since mid-January – against her will.

‘It’s not true that she entered in April. There is no timeline for when she’s coming out, for this to end. She did not want to go. I haven’t had any contact with her but this was not a decision she made, at all.’

The podcast kick-started a fierce debate about whether it was right that the conservatorship, which is typically used to protect the old, the mentally disabled or the extremely ill, was still in place, as well as, more importantly, whether Britney’s happiness or her financial power were at the forefront of her father and her team’s minds.

At this point, Britney hadn’t posted on social media for weeks, nor been seen. The hashtag #FreeBritney began trending on social media, with fans demanding to know more about her welfare. Five days later, a protest erupted in Los Angeles with the star’s fans holding placards with slogans such as ‘Truth Will Set Her Free’ and ‘Larry Rudolph’s Got To Go’ [Rudolph is Britney’s long-time manager].

Coincidentally, that same day, photos of Britney emerged leaving the facility on day release to spend Easter Sunday with her family, along with boyfriend of three years Sam Asghari. The next day, sister Jamie-Lynn Spears tweeted about criticism of her family: ‘I love my sister with everything I have,’ she wrote. ‘So, anyone or anything that speaks to the contrary can GTFOH with all the comments about what you don’t understand.’

Then, last week, Britney spoke. In a video she assured fans that she was ‘trying to take a moment for myself ’. She added, ‘My situation is unique, but I promise I’m doing what’s best at this moment. You may not know this about me, but I am strong, and stand up for what I want!’

Amid the outpouring of love for Britney, many of her followers pointed out that her unkempt appearance in the video was troubling. One added, ‘The reason we have been harsh on your family and your team is because we were extremely worried about you! We just want you to be treated like the wonderful human being you are, not like a money-making machine.’
Speaking to Grazia, podcast host Tess says they never expected to spark such a huge debate, but believes it’s one that needs to happen. ‘We have tried to be extremely cautious: when we got the voicemail, we knew it was important information and we needed to be certain it was credible, so we did everything possible to confirm the source. We know this is a serious subject and we want to present facts as much as possible. We are not lawyers and we’re transparent about what we don’t know.’

The fundamental question at the core of all this is: do we, as fans, have any right at all to know what goes on behind closed doors, not just in her home but in her lawyers’ and doctors’ offices?

Tess explains that she thinks we do. ‘Britney is a public figure and a lot of the stuff that has come out in the last 11 years has been concerning. You are allowed to question what’s been going on.’

Babs explains, ‘We’ve learned by now that conservatorships are for people who have very little capacity to do anything, not for people who are performing on stage in Vegas and making lots of money.’ Tess adds, ‘And I think [it’s disturbing] because people know there is money to be gained.’

Rex Glensy, a partner at Plonsker Law LLP, adds that it is uncommon for a conservatorship to have lasted as long as Britney’s. ‘Conservatorships are not very common for working-age adults... Britney Spears’ conservatorship could only end in one of two ways: her death, or another court proceeding, most likely initiated by her or her father, in which she is deemed to be responsible and capable of handling her finances again. There is no time limit to when this could occur.’

This isn’t the first time the effect of Britney’s legal conservatorship has caused controversy. In 2008, Rolling Stone published a cover story entitled ‘The tragedy of Britney Spears’, which began: ‘She was a pop princess. Now she’s in and out of hospitals, rehab and court. How Britney lost it all.’ In 2016, the New York Times published an article entitled ‘Is Britney Spears ready to stand on her own?’, in which they argued that Britney, as one of the top five highest-earning female pop stars, thanks to her Las Vegas shows, appeared to be making progress while the court order remained firmly in place.

A source close to the singer tells Grazia that while Britney’s Instagram posts of the last year had appeared to prove to her 21 million followers that she was in a different chapter of her life – hanging out with her two children and boyfriend Sam – her life behind the scenes is ‘sad and quite lonely’. ‘Britney doesn’t have a lot of close friends around her. Her dad Jamie is her best friend, and she definitely did struggle with his recent serious illness. But there is a concern that there is simply too much control over her life. So she throws herself into dancing and preparing for performances; that’s the only time she truly feels like herself.’

It might be easy to dismiss the Britney ‘truthers’ with their conspiracy theories and placards, but at the heart of all this is a tragic story about a woman who has had a large part of her freedom taken away. ‘Britney’s life is not her own, and it has not been for over a decade’ said the insider. ‘She is trapped in a lonely prison which is ostensibly created for her own protection: with no visible path out.’

Despite the controversy, while Britney remains in the care of a psychiatric facility, there is a justification for her having overwhelming financial decisions taken out of her hands. Once she feels better, she should also be allowed to enjoy working and performing – all she has known since she was a child – without the accusation that she is being exploited.

Ultimately, Britney’s fans desperately want her to be happy and healthy, but that may take time. Tess says that while their podcast has reignited interest in the conservatorship, their genuine hope is that Britney will be more independent in the future. ‘Her life is so restricted and she is isolated. We don’t know what’s going to happen next but what we hope is that she will one day be able to speak freely about her situation, so we can hear about what has happened to her from her.’

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