EDITOR'S NOTE

The Phillips Effect

Local lawyer with a national platform spreads the wealth to other Best of Jax winners

Folio Weekly readers crowned John M. Phillips Best Lawyer for the third year in a row and named him Best Righteous Crusader as well.
Dennis Ho
Posted

The campaigns are less cutthroat than those for governor, mayor or city council, and we're not aware of any PACs with limitless fundraising aimed at winning Best of Jax, but the stakes are high for those vying for crowns.

Just ask Jacksonville lawyer John M. Phillips. Yes, that John Phillips. The civil litigation attorney representing the parents of Jordan Davis. The radio host covering the overlap of sports and courts. The man delivering legal commentary on HLN (CNN's headline news spinoff channel) and many other channels.

And now the three-time Best of Jax winner for Best Lawyer.

You wouldn't think a lawyer who has built a successful practice with statewide and national acclaim would care much about a local readers poll. But he credits Best of Jax with helping him build crucial grassroots marketing for a small law firm that can't match the multimillion-dollar budgets of the big boys.

"The weight of polls like these tends to bring those little places that don't have an advertising budget into the limelight," Phillips said.

When the Alabama native moved to Jacksonville in 2001, he'd grab a copy of Folio Weekly every week to read during lunch.

"It gave you ideas of where to eat, what to do that maybe you hadn't thought of before," he said.

Best of Jax first introduced him to places like Moon River Pizza.

"It's the poll in town," he said. "It's just a great resource for Jacksonville to weigh in on what's going on in the city."

Phillips has used his extensive social media presence to share his personal picks in several categories. Of the 41 categories he listed on Facebook this year, 34 won — 83 percent. He ought to go to Vegas.

He hedged his bets by picking "ties" in six categories, and some of his choices had wide-ranging support such as One Spark for Best Thing to Happen to Northeast Florida and Shad Khan for Local Hero. But many of his choices were not household names, and he stressed the "local" element in all his picks.

Not only did the majority of his picks win — they won big. Most categories win by a few dozen votes. In most of the categories Phillips picked, the winners led by hundreds of votes.

"It's kind of dumbfounding," he said when told about the results.

He also won Best Righteous Crusader this year, even though he picked Ann Dugger, executive director of the Justice Coalition.

"I blush even thinking about it," he said, but he credited the results to taking cases many others won't take, sometimes for smaller fees or on a pro bono basis, much like his grandfather and great-grandfather did. He represents several gunshot victims and people who were run over by Volusia County Beach Patrol vehicles.

"We're helping people through some of the worst times in their lives," he said.

Lucia McBath and Ron Davis called Phillips in the first few days after their son was shot by Michael Dunn. They were under a barrage of media coverage. They've become advocates for victims and outspoken opponents of laws such as "stand your ground."

"They're doing what they think their son would want them to do and to prevent the loss of other kids like Jordan," he said.

The story of Davis' killing was voted the Worst Thing to Happen in Northeast Florida. With Phillips' help, hip-hop artist J-City, who released a tribute song to Davis, won Best Musician.

Phillips also represents Aria Jewett, the Oceanway Middle School student who was lured off campus and beaten by a schoolmate while others watched and recorded it on cellphones. The case received publicity when the judge banished the main offender from attending any public school in Duval County.

He said the case sheds light on a bullying law that pulls funding from schools that don't have bullying policies, but doesn't specifically help children who are being bullied. Their only recourse is a restraining order that doesn't help until after physical violence has occurred.

A certified NFL agent in 2009 and 2010, Phillips said he left the business when he realized how "dirty" it was. A September Yahoo! Sports story said former Alabama defensive end Luther Davis funneled more than $45,000 to All-American tackle D.J. Fluker and four other SEC football players. Phillips said a $10,000 check that was cited in the story was payment for Davis' help on a book he was writing. Phillips said Yahoo! never called him for comment on the story and a libel suit is pending.

Phillips said he left the agent world disillusioned by the system. After he took the Jordan case, he ended the regular "Courts & Sports" radio show, although he maintains a weekly segment on "The Bold City Football Show" on 930 AM.

"Everything in my heart and my mind changed," he said. "Sports wasn't at the top of my mind."

The cases Phillips takes now represent changes he would like to see in Florida law, such as a higher standard for carrying guns and better protection for bullying victims.

"I always said I want to get a law changed before I was 40," he said. "I turn 39 in January."

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