On July 14, 2021, the California Court ruled that Britney Spears (famous Pop-star who has been under Court ordered Guardianship/Conservatorship since 2008) can hire her own attorney to represent her in connection with her guardianship and conservatorship proceeding. If you have followed the #FreeBritney movement, you know that until now Ms. Spears was represented by an attorney assigned to her by the California court system. You might wonder why she did not have an attorney of her own choosing until now. After all, she is worth millions and can certainly afford her own counsel. You may also wonder what would likely happen under Arizona Conservatorship law.
When initiating a guardianship or conservatorship proceeding, Arizona law provides that unless the alleged incapacitated person is represented by independent counsel, the court shall appoint an attorney to represent that person. California has a similar law. Further, Arizona probate rules state that absent good cause, a petitioner must not nominate an attorney to represent the subject person unless the attorney has an existing attorney-client relationship with the subject person, and the petition describes the attorney’s relationship with the subject person and any relationship with the petitioner. Lastly, the court may not appoint an attorney for the subject person, nor may the attorney accept an appointment, if (1) the attorney has an existing attorney-client relationship with the proposed guardian or conservator, or (2) the attorney has a prior attorney-client relationship with the proposed guardian or conservator, unless after disclosure of the prior relationship to the court and parties, the court approves the appointment. So, what does all this mean? If Ms. Spears did not already have a pre-existing relationship with an attorney qualified and willing to represent her back in 2008, she would have been assigned court appointed counsel in Arizona, same as in California.
What happens when the person subject to guardianship or conservatorship wants to change counsel? In Arizona, if the ward/protected person wishes to change their court appointed counsel for different court appointed counsel, the Court generally grants the request. But what if the individual wants to hire their own independent counsel (an attorney who is not court-appointed), like Britney Spears? That request would be handled on a case-by-case basis. In my experience, the Court will grant these requests absent evidence that the individual lacks capacity to understand the nature of an attorney-client relationship, the attorney has no experience in these types of legal proceedings, or there is evidence that this attorney was not chosen by the individual’s free will. That said, every case is unique. While we cannot know all the history and circumstances involved, it seems likely that if Ms. Spears were in Arizona, she would also be allowed to hire counsel of her own choice.
Our firm typically represents individuals or entities serving as Guardian or Conservator. However, we have on occasion been involved in matters like Ms. Spears’ case where the person subject to guardianship or conservatorship wants their own independent counsel and has been approved by the Court to serve in that role. Call 480-922-1010 to schedule your consultation. Our attorneys are here to help.