A judge ordered Britney Spears's former business manager to answer questions and turn over documents relating to the allegations that the pop star's phone communications and private conversations were constantly monitored during her conservatorship.
Tri Star Sports & Entertainment Group, the company Jamie Spears hired to manage his daughter's business during her nearly 14-year conservatorship, had sought to quash subpoenas the pop star's legal team sent to it and one of its employees, Robin Greenhill, last year. In an order filed Monday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny granted parts of Tri Star's motion but denied the attempt to get out of providing records, emails, and text messages relating to the surveillance allegations first reported by the New York Times last year. Penny found that Spears's requests to obtain documents and depose Tri Star and Greenhill on the issue were "relevant and discoverable."
According to the Times, Jamie Spears monitored all communication on his daughter's phone and instructed her security team to place an audio recorder in her bedroom. (Jamie Spears has denied mishandling her finances or authorizing surveillance of her bedroom.) In its report, the newspaper said Greenhill played a key role in the alleged surveillance apparatus, but she and Tri Star's attorneys have said no one at the company ever suggested monitoring Spears's phone or had awareness of her bedroom allegedly being bugged.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Spears's attorney Mathew Rosengart called the ruling "an important victory" for the singer.
"If Tri Star and Ms. Greenhill had nothing to hide, they would have simply complied with the subpoenas instead of trying to suppress them and choosing a strategy of obfuscation and stonewalling," Rosengart said, "but regardless, we are pleased they will finally have to comply with the core, key portions of the subpoenas and be deposed about them." The order could be crucial for Spears's legal team as they investigate allegations that her father abused his power over her.
But in a win for Tri Star, the judge agreed to quash Britney Spears's requests for information about the creation of the conservatorship and her father's communication with Lou Taylor, the founder and CEO of Tri Star, outside of his capacity as conservator. According to court documents filed in January by Spears's attorney, Jamie Spears owed at least $40,000 to Tri Star for a loan the company had provided him. Despite the inherent conflict of interest, he hired Tri Star to manage the conservatorship and paid the company more than $18 million from his daughter's estate as part of the arrangement.
The court also limited the scope of the depositions and information requests to issues relevant to the 2019 accounting report (which details the money that went into and came out of Spears’s estate that year) and other pending petitions. The accounting report has not been approved by the court due to Spears's outstanding objections to several payments, including $153,759 in payments to cover legal fees for Taylor, and also nearly $400,000 in transactions paid to the company during Spears's work hiatus.
In a statement provided to BuzzFeed News, Scott Edelman, an attorney for Tri Star, described the ruling as "a complete victory" for his client.
"The Court has now clearly confirmed the limited scope of the case once and for all," Edelman said, "and Tri Star, of course, will continue to cooperate with any requests within those boundaries."
Edelman also said that Tri Star accepted Penny's ruling regarding the requests concerning the surveillance allegations, noting that in his eyes the order limits discovery on the issue to the pending petitions. But Rosengart said the subpoena requests approved by the court require Tri Star and Greenhill "to produce 'all' emails and other documents, including text messages, concerning these issues."
The order comes after the court heard arguments in August over the scope of discovery. Penny had previously issued a tentative ruling on the motion, but Rosengart pleaded with the judge to reconsider, saying that several issues the court deemed irrelevant were actually worth discussing.
Rosengart said that, although Tri Star provided QuickBooks data, the company had failed to produce emails, text messages, and other communications to back up decisions that were made about how to spend the singer's money. Penny ultimately took Greenhill's word on that issue and pointed out that Tri Star has committed to providing any other discoverable documents on a rolling basis in light of her ruling.