Lawsuit Against Britney Spears, Her Parents Heads to Los Angeles Trial
Spears’s meltdown is at the heart of a civil trial beginning in L.A. this week. By Maria Elena Fernandez.
Britney Spears probably won’t be anywhere near the Los Angeles courtroom where her parents and her former manager will finally face off this week after three and a half years of accusations and mudslinging. But she might as well be.
Her father, Jamie Parnell Spears, and lawyer Andrew M. Wallett have had legal control over the 30-year-old Grammy winner’s personal and financial affairs since 2008, duties they now split with her fiancé, Jason Trawick. The probate judge overseeing that conservatorship has ruled that Britney Spears should not testify at the trial, scheduled to begin Friday, because doing so would cause her “irreparable harm and immediate danger.”
But the trial judge has resisted making a crucial decision, opting instead to wait and see if the man who is suing the pop star and her parents calls her to testify. Sam Lutfi, 38, who claims to have been Britney Spears’s good friend and manager, filed a lawsuit on Feb. 3, 2009, for libel, defamation, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and breach of contract after the publication of Lynne Spears’s book Through the Storm: A Real Story of Fame and Family in a Tabloid World, in which Lutfi alleges he was libeled. Lutfi filed the civil action just three days after Britney Spears’s father was granted the conservatorship and secured a restraining order against Lutfi, following an incident at his daughter’s Beverly Hills home.
In court papers, Lutfi’s lawyers have argued for the judge to compel Britney Spears to testify during the trial because they expect that her testimony would support Lutfi’s claims that she did hire him as her manager and that, instead of giving her drugs, as her mother claimed in her book, he tried to keep the pop star away from them. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bruguera’s decision last week to wait for the singer to be called as a witness before rendering a ruling will likely pause the trial, as the losing side will want to appeal it.
Whether The X Factor judge reportedly earning $15 million a year ever takes the stand won’t change the central focus of the case: her public breakdown and one man’s role in it. Testimony in the trial will cover the bizarre but crucial period from 2007 to 2008 in which Spears was hospitalized twice, displayed erratic behavior seemingly everywhere she went, got in trouble with the law, and temporarily lost custody of her two young sons. At issue is whether the man ever present at what appeared to be the worst time in her life was a concerned friend and life coach, as he maintains, or a shady, “Svengali” figure who took advantage of and controlled a troubled young woman’s every move, as her parents assert.
After the pop star met Lutfi at a Hollywood nightclub in early 2007, the twosome became inseparable and were photographed and videotaped all over Los Angeles, according to court papers. But Britney Spears officially renounced her friendship with him in 2008 through a lawyer. In his lawsuit, Lutfi claims that three chapters in Lynne Spears’s memoir, published in September 2008, are filled with “false statements” and have caused him to suffer “humiliation, mental anguish and emotional and physical distress.” He also alleges that Parnell Spears punched him in the chest. He is seeking unspecified damages based on an oral contract he says he and Britney Spears entered into in June 2007 that allegedly stipulated he would serve as her manager for four years and receive 15 percent of her earnings.
“Since the publication of the book, Lutfi has been subjected to unfathomable amounts of ridicule and public scorn,” the complaint states. “Lutfi is constantly bombarded by magazine headlines, television shows and internet gossip sites that have propagated Lynne’s lies and fabrications. Lutfi has received numerous death threats from overzealous fans and, as such, is no longer able to venture into the public without being harassed and ridiculed.”
Neither of the attorneys for Britney Spears’s parents, who are represented separately, returned phone calls from The Daily Beast. But in court papers, Lynne and Parnell Spears deny Lutfi’s characterization of their relationship with their daughter: “Plaintiff attempts to paint a scandalous picture of opportunistic and controlling parents who have shamelessly exploited their daughter ever since she became an international pop star. These allegations are false.”
Born Osama Lutfi and raised in the Woodland Hills area north of Los Angeles, Lutfi has claimed in press interviews to work with troubled teens for the past decade, though it is not clear where and how he has done so. During his involvement with Britney Spears, Lutfi cultivated a relationship with the paparazzi agency x17 and regularly tipped photographers off about the singer’s whereabouts, owner Brandy Navarre told the Associated Press in 2008. Britney Spears dated an x17 photographer at the time and befriended others who are expected to testify during the trial.
Lutfi also has been linked to two other women in distress, Lindsay Lohan and Courtney Love. Lohan’s father has said in press reports that Lutfi once texted his daughter out of the blue to badmouth her mother. Though Michael Lohan minimized his daughter’s relationship with Lutfi, he admitted he is friendly with Lutfi and even sent him birthday wishes this year on Twitter. In Courtney Comes Clean, author Maer Roshan wrote that people in Courtney Love’s life told him that Lutfi was directing her publicity and managing her life. Love also wished Lutfi a happy birthday on Twitter in August and called him a “great friend.”
Lutfi, who always wears a baseball cap in public, has had his share of financial and legal issues, including other restraining orders issued against him. In October 2004, his neighbor Mark Douglas Snoland obtained protection against Lutfi after he alleged in court that Lutfi threatened to harm him and his mother, according to court records. Three years later, an Orange County judge issued a restraining order against Lutfi after his former friend, Danny Haines, claimed that, after a falling-out, Lutfi emailed naked photographs of him to his friends, family, employer, and colleagues to humiliate him, according to court records.
Lutfi also was taken to court twice for money he owed a San Francisco cleaning company and American Express. In 2000, Lutfi and his partner were ordered to pay a cleaning company $35,000. In 2006, American Express also won a judgment to have Lutfi pay more than $14,000 he owed the credit-card company, according to court records.
“I’ve never done a drug in my life,” Lutfi told PopCandies TV in 2010. “I’ve maybe yelled some bad words at some people, and that’s it.” Lutfi did not respond to interview requests from The Daily Beast.
The civil trial is about a lot more than some curse words. In his lawsuit, Lutfi contends that soon after he met Britney Spears, she would call and text him numerous times a day, seeking advice on how to prevent both of her parents from having any further involvement in her life. She also sought his guidance in her divorce and custody battle with Kevin Federline and her new album, he stated. According to Lutfi, he officially became her manager when he attended a meeting with her about her 2007 album, Blackout, and Spears surprised him by referring to him as her new “manager” so that executives would discuss her deal in front of him.
“During the time Lutfi was acting as Britney’s manager, Lynne and Jamie began making attempts to reestablish contact with Britney and regain control of her life, career and fortune,” the complaint states. “Although Lutfi encouraged Britney to reconcile with her parents, Lutfi represented a significant impediment to Lynne and Jamie’s regaining control of Britney’s life and career. Thus, as they had so many times before, Jamie and Lynne began a campaign of slander, libel and defamation aimed at discrediting, destroying and physically and emotionally intimidating Lutfi in order to drive him out of Britney’s life.”
Britney Spears’s downward spiral began with her separation from Federline in November 2006 and their subsequent divorce in July 2007. In the months before Lutfi became her manager, her clubbing, drinking, and alleged drug use had caught up with her, he claims in court papers. Photographed partying around Hollywood, sometimes without underwear, Spears shaved her head as the cameras captured the moment, beat a car with an umbrella, and spent a month in rehab. In August 2007 she was charged with a misdemeanor hit-and-run and driving without a license after crashing into a parked car. Because her son was on her lap, a judge granted custody of the boys to Federline and forced Spears to undergo random drug testing twice a week for alcohol and controlled substances.
According to court filings, Lutfi’s legal team plans to present evidence during the trial that one of the first things he did as Britney Spears’s manager was to take drug-sniffing dogs into her mansion to scour it clean of illegal substances. After a drug cache was discovered and removed, he contends, he vacuumed, carpet-cleaned, and scrubbed to eliminate drug residue and childproof the home.
During the first few weeks of his management, Lutfi claims in court papers, Britney Spears’s tests were clean. But she relapsed two months later, he says, when she began taking Adderall, a highly addictive prescription upper that causes insomnia, agitation, and manic behavior, and is used to treat attention-deficit disorder. Lutfi says Spears told him that her mother introduced her to the medication after her disastrous MTV Music Video Awards appearance in August 2007 to help her lose weight.
Spears’s first hospital stint was on Jan. 3, 2008, after an extended period of insomnia and increasingly manic behavior, which ended with her locking herself in a bathroom with one of her sons, according to court filings. Police intervened, determined she appeared to be “under the influence of an unknown substance,” and she was hospitalized, court papers state. Her family then hired a psychiatrist to make nightly house calls and who prescribed anti-psychotic medications, but Spears “did not want to take them because they made her drowsy,” according to Lutfi’s declaration.
Later that month, on Jan. 28, trouble began again at Spears’s Beverly Hills home, Lutfi says in court papers, when he drove her home to meet her psychiatrist and the pop singer jumped out of the car because she wanted to go see her boyfriend instead, and the two argued in front of paparazzi. Her parents heard about it on the news and rushed there in separate cars, and Parnell Spears assaulted Lutfi when security did not allow him in the house, the lawsuit alleges.
That night, according to Lynne Spears’s declaration, Britney Spears was “very agitated and could not stop moving. She cleaned the house. She changed her clothes many times. She also changed her three dogs’ clothes many times” and “spoke to me in a tone with the level of understanding of a very young girl.”
In the court papers, Lynne Spears says Lutfi told a friend of hers who went with her to the house that Lutfi “grinds up Britney’s pills,” including Risperdal and Seroquel, used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and “put them in her food,” and that was the reason she had been sleeping for three days. “He told us that the doctor who is treating her now is trying to get her into a sleep-induced coma so that they could then give her the drugs to heal her brain.”
The infamous outing to Rite Aid to buy lipstick took place later that night. At the drugstore, her mother said in her declaration, Britney Spears “went in and out of her British accent,” and her credit card did not work. At one point, Lynne Spears says, Lutfi said: “If you try to get rid of me, she’ll be dead and I’ll piss on her grave.” When Parnell Spears returned to his daughter’s home the next day, he punched Lutfi in the solar plexus, according to Lutfi’s declaration.
Two days later, because Britney Spears allegedly refused to take anti-psychotic medication, her psychiatrist ordered a 72-hour welfare hold at UCLA. Parnell Spears immediately sought appointment as her conservator, and his first act was to terminate Lutfi as her manager and obtain a restraining order against him.
On Lutfi’s witness list are other people who were a part of Britney Spears’s life at the time. In her book Lynne Spears writes that her daughter’s boyfriend Adnan Ghalib told her that Lutfi prevented the pop star from leaving her own home by taking the batteries out of her cars. Lynne Spears also writes that Ghalib told her that Lutfi threw her daughter’s cellphone chargers away and made the house phones unworkable to control Britney Spears’s every move.
But in a court declaration, Ghalib, an x17 paparazzo who dated the singer and lived in her house for about three months in 2008, says all of those statements are false. He also denies that Lutfi sedated Spears and says that in early January 2008, he received a call from Lynne Spears instructing him to do a press interview “and tell the interviewer that everything was fine with Britney; that Britney was not on drugs or an alcoholic; and that all of Britney’s problems ... were caused by Lutfi.” Ghalib states he did the interview but did not blame his girlfriend’s problems on Lutfi “because I had no personal knowledge, or any reason to believe that any of Lynne’s accusations or assertions about Lutfi were true.”
Britney Spears’s cousin Alli Sims, who worked for her as a personal assistant at the time, declares in court papers that Lutfi never disabled her cousin’s cars, cellphones, or home telephones. Sims says she was in constant contact with Lutfi during that period and that she often heard him encouraging her cousin to make amends with her parents. But Spears balked because she felt her parents betrayed her, Sims states.
Another key witness for Lutfi is Robin Johnson, who monitored Spears’s visitation with her two sons every weekend and every Tuesday from October 2007 to April 2008. In her declaration, Johnson says she was present on several occasions when Lutfi attempted to convince Spears to take her mother’s calls or let her in the house but “Britney would then get irate, yelling and calling her mother names.” During her time with the singer, Johnson says, the phones and cars always worked and that Spears had use of all of her cellphones. It was also Johnson’s job to keep track of Spears’s medications. She states that she witnessed Spears taking her prescribed anti-depressants almost daily and that those drugs “had the opposite of a sedating effect on Britney.”
Felipe Teixeira, another x17 paparazzo who befriended Spears in early 2008, also is expected to testify, according to court papers, that the singer repeatedly told him that she was afraid of her father and did not want to see him. That may or may not be the case. But one thing Lutfi won’t be able to challenge in court is that Britney Spears has suffered no relapses since her father took charge of her life.