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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Disability rights activists and advocates for Britney Spears backed a California proposal Wednesday to provide more protections for those under court-ordered conservatorships, while promoting less-restrictive alternatives.
Their move came as the volatile Spears case again boiled over in a Los Angeles County courtroom.
The hearing to settle lingering issues in the aftermath of Spears’ conservatorship, which was terminated in November, quickly descended into a series of angry accusations between attorneys for Spears and her father, and the case appears headed for a long trial to determine the truth of allegations of misconduct against him.
The case is Exhibit #1 for groups including Disability Voices United, Disability Rights California, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, and Free Britney L.A. who say that what are known as probate conservatorships are overused and misused in California.
They most often involve people with developmental or intellectual disabilities or those with age-related issues like dementia or Alzheimer’s.
But the advocacy groups contend that conservatees like Spears can become trapped in a system that removes their civil rights and the ability to advocate for themselves.
The groups backed legislation by Democratic Assemblyman Brian Maienschein that will also make it easier to end conservatorships for people who want out.
They are promoting instead what are known as “supported decision-making” agreements as a less restrictive alternative. They allow people with disabilities to choose someone to help them understand, make and communicate their choices, but allow the person to still make the decision.
That option has already been adopted in Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Nevada, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C., advocates said.
California law says conservatorships should only be ordered if a judge rules they are the least restrictive alternative. But the advocates contend they are often imposed without examining other options.
Maienschein’s bill would require that before granting a conservatorship, judges first document that all other alternatives including supported decision-making have been considered.
It would write supported decision-making into California law and back that alternative with grant programs, training and technical assistance.
The bill also would make it easier to end probate conservatorships by mandating a periodic review, including asking conservatees if they want to make the conservatorship less restrictive or end it entirely.
Conservators would also be required to consult with the conservatees and make decisions that reflect the conservatee’s wishes or previously expressed preferences.
Spears drew widespread attention to the issue, culminating in November when a Los Angeles judge ended the conservatorship that controlled the pop singer’s life and money for nearly 14 years.
But the fallout continued at Wednesday’s hearing, when Spears’ attorney Mathew Rosengart objected to Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny approving the many outstanding attorneys’ fees in the case until the trial is held.