By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
"The judicial process we have undertaken leads us on a course of decay and destruction," Butter warned ominously. He speculated how Peter would feel when he watched Father Knows Best if he learned about the suit, and listed questions that Peter might ask himself, including, "How do I explain this to my friends at school?" and "Why did they scar me for the rest of my life having to wonder if the father that I love so dearly is not my biological father?"
Butter expressed his conviction that determining that Mas was Peter's father would hurt Peter's relationship with his older brother because it would mean they no longer shared the same economic status. "Right now the boys have bonded together ready to attack life's concerns as a team, equally armed with love for their father, for their mother, love for one another," he wrote. "They are equally armed with the same social background and economic circumstances and one father they can go to for never-ending love."
Soon after Butter filed his report, Melvin demanded that he be replaced as guardian ad litem. Melvin pointed out that Butter had failed to include the medical, financial, psychological, and personal history of the parties involved. "The minor child is entitled to a thorough guardian's report based on a full evidentiary record," Melvin wrote in a March 21, 1995 pleading that detailed his objections to Butter's report.
In a later document asking the judge to limit the guardian ad litem's fees, the cost of which was to be split between Mas and Beatrice, Melvin protested Butter's estimate that he should be compensated at least $200,000 for his work on the case. Melvin noted that Butter had voluntarily participated in time-consuming court hearings. "Generally he has elected to be deeply involved," Melvin wrote, "doing elaborate legal research that in the most part only duplicates the legal research relied on by [attorneys for] Mas and David Puig."
Fierro denied Melvin's motions and deferred ruling on the issue of fees until the suit was concluded. But several months later Melvin filed another request to remove Butter. "Mr. Butter has tainted his guardianship with unethical conduct," Melvin wrote in a August 23, 1995 pleading. Butter's transgression: Soon after accepting the appointment of guardian ad litem, he became embroiled in his own paternity case in Broward County.
Butter took the same position in both cases, arguing that it would hurt the boys to know who their biological fathers were because they had already bonded to other male figures. He denied that his own paternity case created a conflict with his position as guardian ad litem. "We all come to this court with our life's experiences," Butter wrote in response to Melvin's request that he be discharged. "That's true for the litigants, the several lawyers, and our most respectful jurist Honorable Eugene Fierro." Affirming that his own experience convinced him that Beatrice's claim was not in the best interest of her child, once again he urged Fierro to halt the proceedings.
In a recent interview, Butter pleaded ignorance as to the reasons he was selected by Fierro to be guardian ad litem in the case. He suggested that the judge may have read an article he published in the Florida Law Journal around the time of his appointment. He specifically denied having a professional or personal relationship with the judge, despite having been a member of Fierro's election committee in 1990. "Lawyers typically get the endorsement cards [when a judge is running for election] and we sign them and routinely send them back," he explained. (Judge Fierro, in a separate interview, contradicted Butter's speculative account. The judge acknowledged that he has known Butter for years, and described him as one of the most experienced family lawyers practicing in Dade County.) Butter also claimed to have had no prior contact with Mas. "I didn't even know who he was when I accepted the position," he said.
In his final order, which removed all restrictions on access to the court file, Judge Fierro stated that he did not rely on Butter's report or his testimony in deciding the case.
Anticipating that controversy would arise from Beatrice's lawsuit, Fierro appointed Dan Pearson to act as special master to oversee the pretrial depositions. (A former state appellate court judge, Pearson was recently appointed by President Clinton to oversee a federal investigation into the finances of the late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.) Although a party to a lawsuit will sometimes seek the appointment of a special master, such requests usually occur after conflict has arisen, not before. According to legal experts, it is unusual for a judge unilaterally to appoint a special master before any depositions are taken.
The Privette hearing was held August 3 and 4, 1995. Jorge Mas did not attend. David Puig filed written remarks from the Metropolitan Correctional Center. "I want you to know that I was in the delivery room and I held my son even before his mother held him in her arms," he wrote. "I changed diapers, fed, and bathed my son. . . . I attended school parties and extracurricular activities with my children. . . . I am Peter Puig's father and I want to remain Peter Puig's father. I realize I am not perfect, but I am still his father."