CNN Quotes Legal Director of Spectrum Institute

CNN Entertainment has released a story about the conservatorship of Britney Spears.  The story quotes four prominent attorneys knowledgeable in California law.  One of them is Thomas F. Coleman, legal director of Spectrum Institute.

The story focuses on the apparent refusal of the attorney appointed by the court to represent Britney Spears to file a petition to terminate the proceeding despite his client’s expressed wishes that it should end.  The legal experts consulted by CNN were unanimous that such a refusal by the appointed attorney could result not only in his removal from the case by the judge, but also trigger disciplinary proceedings against him by the California State Bar.

“My biggest takeaway on all of this is being denied an attorney of her choice right from the beginning of the case,” Tom Coleman, an attorney with Spectrum Institute, a non-profit organization that supports conservatorship reform in the state of California, told CNN. “From that moment forward, her fate was doomed … the court form when she was served said ‘you have a right to an attorney of your choice.’ And the statute itself says that as well.”

The statute Coleman was referring to is Probate Code Section 1823 which states that a proposed conservatee “has the right to choose and be represented by legal counsel.”  The court form advises a proposed conservatee “You have the right to hire an attorney of your choice to represent you.”  Despite those clear legal pronouncements, the judge in the Spears case removed Britney’s chosen attorney when he appeared on her behalf in court and replaced him with an attorney chosen by the judge.

Senate Bill 724, which is pending in the legislature, would reaffirm the right of a proposed conservatee to an attorney of their choice.  That provision is supported by conservatorship reform groups and disability rights organizations but opposed by the Trusts and Estates Section of the trade group known as the California Lawyers Association.  Many of the lawyers in that section rely on court appointments for a steady income stream from the assets of litigants who would otherwise hire attorneys who are not part of the inner circle of probate court practitioners.

The right to hire an attorney is not limited to proposed conservatees but also applies to persons living under an order of conservatorship who want to terminate it and regain their freedom. 

To read the full CNN story, click here. (here is the link: