Another day, another Britney Spears driving snafu — but could her multiple mishaps, however minor they might seem on the surface, actually mean something serious when it comes to the singer’s custody battle? Legal experts and those close to the case say yes.
“It causes a huge problem,” said family law attorney Joshua Forman, a partner at New York firm Chemtob Moss Forman & Talbert. “It shows she’s not following the rules of the court or the rules of the road.”
Outside of allegedly driving over the feet of a couple of paparazzi and a deputy police officer , Spears in the last week alone has been photographed and videotaped committing multiple traffic infractions — running a red light and making an illegal turn, and crossing double yellow lines to overtake another vehicle — while either talking or texting on her cell phone. The court-approved monitor for her visitations with her two young sons was seen seated next to the singer (and trying to duck) in the passenger seat, while Sean Preston and Jayden James were sitting in the back seat, apparently asleep.
Authorities have no plans to cite Spears for either traffic violation, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department told MTV News, since no officers were present at either scene. “We can’t just go by someone’s tape,” Sergeant Mike Lopez said. “We have to witness it, unless it’s an intersection with cameras that automatically take pictures of people running red lights, and then something gets mailed to the registered owner.” And there’s some more good news for Spears, as far as the issue of the cop’s feet is concerned — the LAPD isn’t planning on charging her with anything in that matter, either.
So while the infractions won’t hurt Spears’ driving record, they could still prevent her from driving her children, since the singer’s ex-husband Kevin Federline had just asked the court to prevent Spears from driving their children , for safety reasons, in an emergency hearing on Thursday.
Commissioner Scott Gordon delayed ruling on that motion until November 26, but on Tuesday, Federline’s lawyer Mark Vincent Kaplan asked the court to hold an ex parte hearing on the matter. The hearing has been scheduled for Friday. Footage of Spears running a red light may also be subpoenaed by Kaplan to show the court, a source close to the situation told MTV News.
“I can’t imagine, after this, that the judge isn’t going to grant the request,” Forman said, “even though, on the tape, it does look like she ran the red light to get away from the paparazzi. But there’s no exception in the motor vehicle code for getting away from the paparazzi — it’s not a good excuse.”
“It’s an innocent thing in a vacuum,” said Susan Reach Winters, chairperson of the Family Law Department at the New Jersey firm Budd Larner, P.C. “If you followed me around all day, I’d make one or two mistakes myself. How many stop signs have you rolled through? But it’s the worst time in the world for her to be anything short of perfect.”
Though another adult is supposed to be present in the car when Spears drives her children around, the court-appointed monitor isn’t someone the singer can ask to drive for her, since that raises questions of liability should there be an accident. “It depends on who it is, how she was chosen, if she’s state-appointed,” Winters pointed out.
Instead, Forman said, Spears should voluntarily show she has her children’s best interests and safety in mind by hiring a driver. “These are people of means,” he said. “It’s not a hardship to hire a driver. She has the funds.”
“She has to understand that she is in a fishbowl where everybody is watching her,” said Los Angeles family-law attorney Kelly Y. Chang. “She needs to know that everything she does is being filmed, photographed and exaggerated. Her lawyer needs to let her know that she is on very thin ice. If I was her, I wouldn’t drink, do drugs or even drive. I would be doing everything to make sure it appears that I am a competent and able parent.”
“Knowing that she’s under a microscope, being followed by her ex-husband and the press, she’s got to be on her best behavior,” Winters said. “Because if a judge thinks that she’s like this when she’s under this much scrutiny, he’s going to wonder what she’s like when she’s not under the court’s microscope, no matter what the issue is.”
Forman recommends Spears use child-safety seats (as previously ordered by the court), use a more child-friendly vehicle than her Mercedes (“We know she has a Suburban”) and take a remedial driving course to show she’s serious about mending her ways.
“I’m not sure driving school would help anything,” Winters countered. “She knows how to drive. It’s driving responsibly. It’s like a teenage kid driving too fast, not exercising good judgment. It’s showing a disregard, an above-it-all attitude, and that can only cause a huge amount of problems with the judge.”
“The only way she can get out of this mess is to be a good girl,” Forman said. “This is a situation of her own making, and the only thing she has on her side is time. If she’s good for a few months, it’ll be fine, but how many more things does she have to throw in the judge’s face?”
[This story was originally published on 11.12.2007 at 5:41 p.m. ET]