LOS ANGELES, Calif. – 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 Thursday 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 hospitalized and placed under a court-ordered conservator. Lutfi is also seeking a share of the singer’s fortunes, claiming he had an agreement to serve as her manager in exchange for 15 per cent of her earnings.
Schleimer conceded the case would be a complicated one. 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 hilltop home.
“My client was made a scapegoat for drug abuse and erratic behaviour of Britney Spears,” Schleimer told the jury, most of whom knew of the singer but hadn’t followed her career or personal troubles.
Schleimer claimed Spears favoured amphetamines and that the dogs turned up a substance the Grammy-winner told Lutfi was probably crystal meth.
“He was terrified of being her manager when she overdosed,” Schleimer said.
Jurors likely won’t hear directly from the singer, who remains under a conservatorship overseen by a judge who has ordered her not to appear for trial or a deposition. Superior Court Judge Susan Bruguera told Schleimer during a break that all the accusations he raised during his opening statement should be supported by evidence that will be presented at trial.
Schleimer said he would prove them through either “testimony or documentary evidence.”
Attorneys for Spears’ parents and conservators will have their own opportunity to present opening remarks to jurors Friday afternoon when the trial resumes.
Lutfi and Spears’ parents, Jamie and Lynne, both sat in the audience as Schleimer made his opening statements to the panel of eight women and four men. Jamie Spears did not look up at the photos of his daughter that Schleimer displayed.
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. He is also seeking a portion of the singer’s profits, claiming he was a key player in her 2007 album “Blackout” and had the right to serve as her manager for years.
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 expired, but conservatorship attorneys are seeking repayment for more than $93,000 in legal fees â€” a judgment Lutfi is appealing.
Lutfi sued in February 2009, roughly a year after Spears was hospitalized and placed under the conservatorship to take control of her health and finances. The move by Jamie Spears came after months of erratic behaviour by his daughter, 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 was a constant presence around Spears during the tumultuous period. In his court case he 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.
Anthony McCartney can be reached at http://twitter.com/mccartneyAP .