Trial opens against Britney Spears' parents over book
Britney Spears' former confidante was made a scapegoat for her mental breakdown despite efforts to keep the singer from using drugs, his attorney told a jury in a case against the pop superstar's parents and conservators.
Attorney Joseph Schleimer told the panel that Sam Lutfi was trying to help the singer but lost control in a series of events that led to her being hospitalised and placed under a court-ordered conservator. Lutfi is seeking a share of the singer's fortunes, claiming he had an agreement to serve as her manager in exchange for 15% of her earnings.
Schleimer conceded the case would be complicated. His opening statements included flashing photos of Spears with a shaved head and striking an SUV with an umbrella. He said one of Lutfi's first actions after being hired as manager was having drug-sniffing dogs search the singer's home.
"My client was made a scapegoat for drug abuse and erratic behaviour of Britney Spears," Schleimer told the jury.
Schleimer claimed Spears favoured amphetamines and that the dogs turned up a substance the Grammy winner told Lutfi was probably crystal meth.
Jurors likely won't hear directly from the singer. Attorneys for Spears' parents and conservators will have their own opportunity to present opening remarks to jurors Friday afternoon, when the trial resumes.
Lutfi is seeking millions of dollars from Spears and her family, claiming her mother's book lied about him drugging and isolating the pop superstar.
The case is the culmination of years of acrimony between Lutfi and Spears' family and conservators, who successfully obtained a restraining order against him to keep him from contacting the singer or trying to intervene in her life. The order has since expired, but conservatorship attorneys are seeking repayment for more than $93 000 in legal fees – a judgment Lutfi is appealing.
Lutfi sued in February 2009, roughly a year after Spears was hospitalised and placed under the conservatorship to take control of her health and finances. That came after months of erratic behavior by Spears, including shaving her head, speaking in a British accent and other bizarre incidents that also led to her losing custody of her two sons with ex-husband Kevin Federline.
Lutfi maintains that he was trying to help her, though her parents say Lutfi cut her phone line, hid her cellphones and used the paparazzi as "henchmen".
Schleimer claimed Lutfi befriended the paparazzi so that they would treat Spears with more respect and that he tried to assemble top talent agents to jumpstart her career.
Many of the claims were included in court filings used to obtain the conservatorship, but Lynne Spears included them in her 2008 book Through the Storm: A Real Story of Fame and Family in a Tabloid World.
Lutfi is suing for libel based on three chapters in the book that describe him as a "general" to the paparazzi and portray him as a man trying to manipulate not only the singer but her mother.