After a proceeding earlier on Monday (March 10), during which Britney Spears' lawyer argued that Kevin Federline charges her too much in legal fees, the pop star got a little bit of a break in court later that day — the judge in her conservatorship case granted her permission to spend some of her own money as she pleases.
Though the singer's father, Jamie Spears, has control over her finances (at least temporarily), Commissioner Reva Goetz gave a little control back to Britney on Monday, when she agreed that the conservatorship could give Britney $1,500 a week to spend on a debit or credit card. In the meantime, co-conservator Andrew Wallet asked the court to determine how much of the singer's money should be in her trust versus in her conservatorship (which currently holds its assets in a $135,000 bond).
Goetz also approved the conservatorship's request to retain entertainment lawyer Tom Hansen of the firm Hansen, Jacobsen, Teller, Hoberman, Newman, Warren & Richman LLP to deal with contract disputes and "new potential matters." One such matter for Britney is her upcoming appearance on the sitcom "How I Met Your Mother," which CBS confirmed to MTV News. She'll be playing a love-struck receptionist named Abby in an episode airing March 24. Hansen comes to Britney's aid at a high price — his retainer is $15,000 a month — but a lawyer for the conservatorship told the court that was a good deal, since Hansen normally costs $1,000 per hour.
Other matters before the court were held over until a hearing on July 31 — when the temporary conservatorship expires — including a motion to extend the conservatorship of Britney's estate and person into a more permanent one. Los Angeles Superior Court director of public information Allan Parachini told reporters that the conservatorship won't be a lifelong thing for Brit, but it will be renewed until it's no longer necessary. The singer's court-appointed lawyer, Sam Ingham, said that though security had been offered to make it safer for Britney to attend this hearing, she had declined, despite objecting to elements of the release that is being requested. "I categorize her as unwilling to appear," Ingham said.
Another conservatorship hearing was scheduled for April 17 to go over attorney fees in probate court, just as they were addressed in family court earlier on Monday. Britney also opted not to attend that hearing in her custody battle with Kevin Federline, in which her attorney asked the family court to reduce nearly $500,000 in legal fees, since she had been ordered to pay her ex's bills.
Spears' latest attorney in her custody case, Stacy Phillips, told the court that Federline's attorney Mark Vincent Kaplan was overcharging for his services. He had changed his rates midbattle and hired an associate, charging a rate of $600/hour for each of them. Phillips said it wasn't necessary for both lawyers to attend the hearings, and she also criticized Kaplan for bundling his fees to make them "impossible to scrutinize."
When Phillips said Kaplan's fee of $450,000-$500,000 was too high, Commissioner Scott Gordon asked her to suggest an alternate figure. "That's putting me on the spot," Phillips responded. "I just want to know where you're coming from," Gordon said.
Ultimately, Phillips said a sum of $150,000-$175,000 would be more reasonable, though she believed that Federline should have to foot at least part of the bill himself, pointing out that he'd recently listed expenses of $20,000 for jewelry, and handed out a $2,000 tip for a $365 bar bill.
"This is not a normal case," Kaplan countered, citing the monitored visitation, conservatorship and frequent emergency hearings as factors making this particular custody battle more complex than most, requiring more time on his part, as well as the hiring of associate Jim Simon. Citing a family-law code that supports a level playing field, Kaplan argued that since Spears was spending between $800,000-$900,000 on her own lawyers' expenses, Federline should be able to spend an equal amount, especially when he was trying to protect the children from what Kaplan described as "a dangerous situation."
Phillips also tried — unsuccessfully — to get more visitation rights for the pop star in a closed session. "There's no change in the existing order," Parachini said. "It's a work in progress, but it's status quo on visitation." However, Kaplan predicted that this would change in the future and the opposing sides would become "more collaborative" in the future. Another good sign for Britney was that Federline and his former father-in-law were quite friendly, chatting for about 15 minutes before the hearing started.
Commissioner Gordon took the fee dispute under advisement but did not rule on the matter during the hearing on Monday. "It's not clear when he'll be ruling, but if I were a betting man, I would say not today," Parachini said.
Separate hearings were also set in the family and probate courts to discuss psychological and medical evaluations of the embattled pop star and how they will affect her ability to be a mom and make financial decisions, respectively. The family court hearing is set for May 6, while the probate court hearing will be on May 29.
[This story was originally published at 6:26 p.m. E.T. on 3.10.2008]