John Fernandes: Why conservatorship and guardianship must be reformed
You may have felt alone in your fight for freedom from the abusive conservatorship you have been trapped in. After all, until recently, you waged your legal battle in isolation, deprived of trusted legal counsel, controlled by those with a financial interest in the continuance of your conservatorship, threatened with loss of access to your children and loved ones if you step out of line. As organizers of the #FreeBritney movement, we are writing this open letter to let you know that you are not alone in your suffering or in your quest for freedom. You have a fierce movement behind you and, by fighting for yourself, you are exposing the plight of thousands of others, mainly women, who are trapped in abusive guardianships with seemingly no escape.
The #FreeBritney movement started as a small group of fans who united on social media over concerns about your safety after witnessing what we are convinced is the human trafficking of you in plain sight. We, too, have withstood the gaslighting, cast by your conservators as a group of crazy fans with outlandish claims. Like you, we have been growing in strength and impatience for your freedom over the last year, unwilling to back down in the face of clear human right abuses against you. We have become a powerful, global and savvy force of volunteers. We teamed with legal experts on Guardianship Fraud to better understand what has been happening to you, and the ways in which you and others can be freed from what we now know is an increasingly more common form of human trafficking.
In your last two court appearances, you detailed the abuses of your conservators and admitted fearing for your life. According to the Guardianship Reform experts who listened to your testimony, how you have been treated is consistent with the methodology used by those committing guardianship fraud: Isolate, Intimidate, Overmedicate, Drain the Estate. When there’s nothing left of an estate for the predatory guardians to steal or accusations of guardianship abuse arise, the ward, typically an elderly woman, is often moved to the final phase of the fraud: Cremate.
Like many people abducted through Guardianship, you were not even aware of, let alone present at, the initial court proceeding that stripped you of all of your civil and human rights, when full control of your life was assigned to your father. You were never given the chance to defend yourself. Your conservators threaten access to your children and loved ones if you do not comply with their demands, including being overmedicated. These are common techniques used by predatory Guardians to subdue their victims. When loved ones try to fight for the victim, they are also intimidated, served with restraining orders and lawsuits. Indeed, several #FreeBritney organizers received cease and desist orders to silence them.
Predatory Guardians typically plunder the victim’s estate, use it to fight off any challenges by the victim and to silence those who attempt to fight to free the ward. Often family members and loved ones risk severe legal costs in order to save the trapped victim. Yet, the predatory Guardian doesn’t spend a dime of their own money. The victim’s estate is used against the victim to maintain the conservatorship– it’s a technique you are painfully aware of.
In your court testimony, you explained that you “did not feel heard” in previous appearances before the court which is another common experience of those trapped in an abusive conservatorship. Court-appointed attorneys can have as much financial interest in the continuance of the conservatorship as the conservators and, as a result, often dismiss the concerns of their own client. That you were unaware you could even contest the conservatorship suggests you have not been represented properly.
The #FreeBritney movement has united with the Guardianship Reform movement to prevent predatory guardianships and to free those now in them. Your request to choose your own attorney was granted by the court. All wards in conservatorship deserve that right too. Our first step together is supporting California Senate Bill 724 which would grant all wards in a conservatorship in California the right to choose their own attorney. You, rightfully, said in court that the laws must change. Working with SecureWomen.org, we are calling for Guardianship Fraud prevention efforts to be implemented nationwide immediately, including requiring a second opinion for a capacity determination, mandatory 30-day notification of next of kin when a petition for guardianship is filed, the limiting of the number of wards a guardian can have, the rotation of probate court judges, and the restriction on guardians using victim’s assets to cover legal costs when the conservatorship is contested by the ward.
Britney, we are working tirelessly toward the day in which you choose how you live, when you work, who you hire, whether you have more children, and have the ability to go for a drive with your future husband whenever you two please. We envision the day you no longer have to plead for basic human rights from strangers and instead you can join us in leading the movement you inspired.
John Fernandes is a #FreeBritney advocate at @touchofroseproject. Thanks to American Forum for sharing this article.