With everyone in Tiger King being so thoroughly bizarre, Joe Exotic especially, you could hardly expect a buttoned-up, traditional lawyer to represent him. John Phillips, the reputable civil rights attorney who is introduced in this five-part follow-up outing, feels just right. He’s “normal” enough that the audience can get on board with the idea of him actually being able to do some serious legal work, but he’s just eccentric enough to fit right into this strange milieu. But who is John Phillips aside from Joe Exotic’s lawyer?
Spoilers for Tiger King Season 2 ahead!
Well, initially, he was the lawyer of Don Lewis’s family. Don, you’ll recall, was the husband of Carole Baskin whom she may or may not have killed and fed to their menagerie of exotic pets. Hailing from Alabama, Phillips’s Political Science and Criminal Justice degree made him ideally suited to represent Don’s daughters in a lawsuit they had filed against Carole and Kenny Farr, Don’s former “right-hand man” – so too did his obvious appreciation of the limelight, him already being fairly well-known to the public after a few high-profile cases and television appearances.
Phillips is a charismatic and confident presence, and one gets the sense he genuinely intended to find out what happened to Don for the benefit of his family. But his standout moments in Tiger King 2 are acts of comically extreme pettiness, including a great moment when he places an ad imploring people to come forward with knowledge of Don’s disappearance – and evidence against Carole Baskin – while Carole herself was on Dancing with the Stars. Joe Exotic would later mock the ad as looking like the family were hostages, but its placement impressed Joe, who later hired Phillips as his own lawyer when his inability to find out anything concrete about Don’s disappearance led his family to seek alternate legal counsel.
Phillips doesn’t just agree to represent Joe for the good of his health. As Tiger King 2 progresses, it becomes obvious that not only is there evidence to suggest that Joe’s case wasn’t entirely fair, but that he might have been the victim of an actual federal set-up, himself the target of a murder-for-hire orchestrated by Jeff Lowe, his wife Lauren, and James Garretson. Teaming up with the would-be handyman hitman Allen Glover, Phillips has a strong case that Joe Exotic was wrongfully imprisoned and is working towards his release.