Spears, Federline back in court over custody

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Hollywood's highest-profile custody battle was back in court Friday, with Britney Spears and Kevin Federline going behind closed doors to work out custody arrangements for their two young sons.

Spears arrived at the courthouse in her white Mercedes-Benz convertible and giggled when reporters asked her outside the courtroom if she was nervous.

She was escorted by sheriff's deputies and wore a black print dress and cowgirl boots. Her brown hair was lightly streaked with blonde highlights, and she carried a large handbag.

Federline, her ex-husband, reached the courtroom a few minutes after Spears. He was wearing a gray pinstriped suit and an earring in his right ear.

Both were under court order to attend the proceedings.

They were asked to stand, raise their right hands and swear to tell the truth, which they did.

A few moments later, Superior Court Commissioner Scott Gordon closed the hearing to the media at the request of Spears' lawyer, Sorrell Trope.

Trope was expected to argue that Spears had complied with court orders and should regain the shared custody she lost earlier this month.

Earlier in the day, a lawyer for Spears won a motion to bar videotaping of deposition testimony in the case.

Spears' lawyer, Thomas Paine Dunlap, argued that video of the depositions would almost certainly wind up on YouTube. He said his celebrity client had a right to be protected from that exposure.

Gordon made his ruling on the matter despite his concern that Spears is constantly courting "inordinate amounts of media," which he said runs counter to her expressed desire for privacy.

"I'm not chastising her," Gordon said. "She's an adult. But what I'm saying is someone who is always going to places where there is an inordinate amount of media, it doesn't square."

Dunlap countered that the pop star was not trying to create media attention.

"If she goes to Starbucks, there's media there. If she goes shopping, there's media there," he said.

Attorney Mark Vincent Kaplan, who represents Federline, said his client wanted the depositions to be videotaped to preserve the demeanor of witnesses who testify during the closed sessions.

After the commissioner's ruling, Kaplan asked that experts and other parties be allowed to be present to see how witnesses responded.

Gordon said he would allow two people to observe the witnesses.

In preparation for the day's proceedings, a special metal detector was installed outside the courtroom. Officials confiscated cell phones from people arriving on the floor to prevent media, attorneys and spectators from taking pictures in the courtroom.

The process caused a backup of lawyers who had to empty brief cases for inspection.

During the morning hearing, Dunlap complained that he was being forced to do things he had never done before to get into a courtroom.

Gordon responded dryly, "This may be the manufacture of your client."

Outside the courthouse, about 40 members of the media gathered more than two hours before the afternoon hearing, and half a dozen satellite TV broadcast trucks lined the busy, downtown street.

Reporters and photographers snacked and chatted, trying to figure out which of the several courthouse entrances the celebrities might use.

Larry Mays, 59, stood among the crowd wearing a banner reading, "Ask Jesus to Save You Now." He said he routinely stakes out court proceedings involving celebrities.

"The cameras help me get the message out," he said.

Gordon has previously said there was evidence that Spears is a "habitual, frequent and continuous" user of drugs and alcohol, withdrew approval for her to even visit the children after finding she had failed to comply with some conditions for shared custody.

He later withdrew the ban and allowed her to visit Sean Preston, 2, and Jayden James, 1 -- but only in the presence of a court-approved monitor.

The order by Gordon was tough and unambiguous.

Spears was to undergo random drug and alcohol tests and meet weekly with a parenting coach who would report back to the court about her parenting skills.

Spears and Federline also were prohibited from making derogatory remarks about each other in their children's presence and from using "corporal punishment" to discipline them.

Both parents also were ordered to complete the court's "Parenting Without Conflict" class.

The custody fight has played out on a public stage, with paparazzi and celebrity Web sites reporting on the former couple's every move -- including sightings of Spears driving with her sons and a monitor in Beverly Hills.
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