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Spears case drives California bid to limit conservatorships

Spears case behind new bill

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 Professional Fiduciary Association of California, which represents many of those appointed as conservators, did not immediately comment, but said answers to many questions about the process can be found at https://californiaconservatorshipfacts.com

“Conservatorships should be rare, and the last resort,” said Judy Mark, president of Disability Voices United, a Southern California advocacy group. “The default should be that people with disabilities retain their rights and get support when they need it.”

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.

Maienschein called Spears “arguably the world’s most famous conservatee,” but said his bill would aid the many others who don't have "the benefit of worldwide fame to shine a light on her case.”

 



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