Carole Baskin’s former lawyer provides roaring inside perspective on Exotic, Baskin case

Barauskas recieved this plaque after his work on Baskin's case

Barauskas

Barauskas recieved this plaque after his work on Baskin's case

Although the hype for the popular Netflix docuseries Tiger King was mainly around the show’s eccentric main characters, Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin, the legal issues between them were just as fascinating. 

Working on the case was Tampa lawyer Aleksas Barauskas, formerly of the Johnson Pope law firm. Barauskas’s position at the firm, where he worked for three and a half years, was his first job out of law school.

“I was an associate at the time that they brought in this case that had had a lot of work and needed somebody to do it, and I was the guy. I figured it out as I went along- I had never done intellectual property work and learned it on the fly,” said Barauskas.

In 2011-2012, Baskin and her organization, Big Cat Rescue Corp., filed three copyright lawsuits against Joe Exotic, according to Barauskas. While the suits never made it to trial because Exotic conceded after the court disposed of his claims against Baskin, there is lots of information about the legal struggles that Tiger King didn’t cover. 

The first lawsuit focused on Joe Exotic’s Big Cat Rescue Entertainment Corporation, which was directly copied from Baskin. The logos were very similar, both featuring the striking blue eyes of a white and grey cat and with similar fonts as well.

“My client, Big Cat Rescue Corp., had a federally registered trademark of “Big Cat Rescue,” and we filed a lawsuit because Joe Exotic created Big Cat Rescue Entertainment and started using a very similar logo and operating under that, trading off of our client’s name,” said Barauskas. 

The other two lawsuits were about a series of Baskin’s photos that Exotic put on the internet. Specifically, Big Cat Rescue Corp. had taken one of volunteers smiling and handling a dead rabbit, which was going to be fed to one of their tigers. Exotic used the photo to label Big Cat Rescue Corp. as animal murderers and abusers. 

As for Exotic and Baskin themselves, Barauskas says, Tiger King did a good job of showing their true characters. 

“Carole Baskin would say that the depiction [of herself] is not accurate, and she has posted a response on her website- a list of the things that she says are not true- but ultimately I think that they are more or less accurate depiction. Carole is a little out there, she’s more focused on the mission,” said Barauskas. 

Barauskas also opposed Exotic in depositions, where Exotic was questioned under oath by Baskin’s attorneys. 

“Joe is a wild man and that’s exactly how he was in depositions. He is nuts; he will say anything for shock value, which for lawyers is incredible… He would come to depositions wearing Iron Man shirts… he’s got his eye ring… he’s just crazy.”

While Barauskas wasn’t prosecuting Exotic for his mistreatment of animals, his discoveries while working on the trademark case did help Exotic get charged for animal abuse later. Joe Exotic released a list of counterclaims against Baskin, and Barauskas, trying to prove them false, found crucial information. 

“And because he brought those claims, we were entitled to disprove them and get all kinds of discoveries about his treatment of animals to prove that the things we said were either in good faith belief or were actually true… We shared information with the authorities as we got it and subsequently that’s when he started getting into the trouble you saw on the show.”

Right now, Joe Exotic and his current husband, Dillon Passage, are campaigning to have him pardoned by U.S. President Donald Trump and freed from his 22-year prison sentence. The “Free Joe Exotic” movement has been popular among Tiger King fans.

“I think that he did something and was convicted for a crime and that he should do the time for that crime. You can’t really go around trying to hire people to kill your adversaries… He certainly has a lot more of a following than he ever did before. Sometimes these things take off and lose control, so it depends. I don’t think he’s that sensitive of a character. At the end of the day, he was not particularly good to animals, he is not particularly good to people, and the more scrutiny that he gets will show more of the truth than that he should be vindicated,” said Barauskas. 

After his work on the case, Barauskas received Big Cat Rescue’s “Honorary Advo-Cat” award “in recognition of his outstanding dedication and service to big cats.” While he does not really have contact with the Baskins anymore, he did talk to Carole’s current husband, Howard Baskin, after the show.

“We had some stressful but rewarding times working together because we were in the trenches together. Howard was gathering boxes of boxes of documents and he was very organized. We worked daily, if not hourly [together].”