Love and Cuba

Jorge Mas Canosa says a Miami woman tried to smear his reputation and extort millions from him. She says he is the father of her child. Both have sworn they are telling the truth.

Acting on behalf of David Puig, attorney Laura Fabar informed the judge of Beatrice's intention to file the paternity suit. If Lenard didn't do something immediately, Fabar argued, it would be too late. Beatrice would have the opportunity to tell her sons that David was not Peter's father "thereby causing irreparable emotional and psychological devastation" to both of the boys. (In a recent interview, Maurice Kutner, Mas's lawyer, conceded that he "probably" gave copies of his correspondence with Melvin to Fabar, alerting her to Melvin's plans to file the paternity suit. Fabar will not say how she came to represent David Puig.)

After reviewing Fabar's motion, Lenard, who was appointed to the federal bench this spring, issued an injunction the attorney had prepared forbidding Beatrice from "informing or telling the parties' two minor children or any other third parties that the Former Husband is not the real father of the parties' minor children. This includes the filing of a lawsuit or other legal proceeding."

Melvin objected and the divorce case was then transferred to Judge Eugene Fierro, based on Dade's system of assigning cases to judges at random. Fierro modified the injunction at Melvin's request, permitting Beatrice to file the paternity lawsuit. The other aspects of the gag order remained in place, however.

Throughout the case, Melvin would repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, argue that the injunction was an egregious violation of his client's constitutional right to free speech. In a brief filed July 20, 1995, with the Third District Court of Appeal, Melvin described the limitations imposed by the injunction as unprecedented. "No court has ever upheld such Draconian intrusions into free speech and due process in the name of 'privacy,'" he wrote.

"The court has always entered injunctions when a statement [by a parent] would potentially harm a child," counters Fabar, explaining that during divorces mothers are sometimes blocked from making derogatory comments about their spouses to their children, for example, telling them that their father is "a lowlife."

Other lawyers and judges who are familiar with the case, however, say that the gag order against Beatrice is unusual in its degree of restrictiveness. First Amendment expert Bruce Rogow says he finds such injunctions to be inherently troubling. "It does raise substantial First Amendment issues," he points out. "Mothers tell their children things all the time that leave lasting scars. Are we going to get to the point where we let the courts tell parents what they can and can't say to their children?"

Nonetheless the appellate court allowed the gag order to stand, noting that the injunction was "evidently entered out of concern for the privacy interests of the child."

Meanwhile, the paternity lawsuit began to unfold as if it had been scripted by John Grisham. According to court papers, shortly after Beatrice hired Melvin, she claimed that three men arrived at her home in Kendall and tried to abduct Peter, who was outside playing baseball with two friends from the neighborhood. The children dashed inside Beatrice's house to escape the men. They told her that a white car had driven up and one of the men had gotten out and started heading for Peter.

The intrigue heightened after the suit was officially filed on November 21, 1994. In a written statement Mas issued addressing the suit, he stated, "In a speech broadcast to the international press in late August 1994, Fidel Castro singled me out as his American nemesis, as head of the Cuban Mafia. Since that speech, the Cuban American National Foundation has been advised by its supporters in Cuba that Castro has targeted me for a character smear campaign.

"The foundation suspects -- but cannot substantiate -- that that campaign has begun. I am currently threatened with a demand of financial extortion of several million dollars to silence a woman who claims I am the father of her nine-year-old son."

The statement appeared to be designed to evoke sympathy for Mas and discredit Beatrice. It was also psychologically wounding. If Beatrice was telling the truth about their alleged relationship and about her willingness to sacrifice her feelings for Cuba's benefit, this was the most hurtful thing Mas could have said A and it proved to be portentous.

Lawsuits ideally reflect a quest for truth, and a naive person might assume that Beatrice's paternity suit would have established whether in fact she had an affair with Mas or whether she was trying to extort money from him, as well as whether Mas was the father of her son Peter. But in 1993 the Florida Supreme Court ruled that paternity cases involving legitimate children (those with a known legal father, if not a known biological father) must first be decided on the basis of whether the lawsuit is in the "best interests" of a child before the truth about a child's paternity can be established.

When the ruling was issued, a dissenting justice pointed out that with its decision, the court was ironically allowing unacknowledged biological fathers to argue that they need not pay child support because it would be detrimental to their offspring's welfare. "The welfare of the child demands that we recognize and honor not the fiction but the underlying purpose upon which the fiction was created," wrote Justice Stephen Grimes. What Grimes referred to as "the fiction" was the assumption that the legal father of a child was his biological father. But the idea of fiction took on another meaning in Beatrice's lawsuit as different versions of reality spun uncontested through the court.

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