Courtship, River Oaks Style

High-powered attorney Earle Lilly was Linda Sarofim Lowe's divorce lawyer, then her lover. Now he's left her, and she wants her $6 million in attorney fees and her Mercedes back.

On the night of November 14, 1996, Linda Sarofim Lowe awaited as the high black gates of her River Oaks Boulevard estate opened wide for the arrival of Earle Lilly.

She knew him first as her lawyer -- and then as her lover. On that evening, Lilly came carrying the best of champagne, a $143 bottle of Cristal, suitably chilled for a grand if intimate celebration.

This bulldog of a courtroom battler, with his distinctive gravel-tinged growl, had just gained a final divorce decree for her from billionaire investment czar Fayez Sarofim.

Noted for a tenacious or just plain nasty style of attack, Lilly turned Lowe's divorce suit against Sarofim, with its allegations of mere marital discord, into high drama, with accusations of spousal rape, abuse, cruelty and false imprisonment.

Sarofim would end the dispute with a stroke of his pen on a $12 million check to Lowe. Lowe would suddenly be independently wealthy. She had a lot of warm feelings for the charismatic court crusader who had helped her gain this new status in life.

In Lowe's mind, here was the man who would escape with her from the past known as Houston. They had already talked of togetherness in some faraway place that would bring them peace, paid for in part with Sarofim's settlement. Then they would, well, just live happily ever after as the Lady and her Earle.

Lowe drank his champagne. They consummated the relationship about the time the midnight bells chimed in her mansion, she said.

Rumors of this affair rippled through Houston society circles still rebounding from the earlier gossip generated by the scandalous allegations in the megabucks Sarofim divorce. River Oaks regulars fueled their suspicions of a romance with increased sightings of Lilly with Lowe -- then confirmed it when the twosome jetted away for rendezvous in Acapulco and New York.

Romance reports raced through the elite, followed nearly as quickly by news that the romance was over. Houston society speculated about the problems, but all Lilly had to do was listen to his telephone messages. In contrast to the romance of chilled champagne, the chilling voice of Lowe described her very different dream for him:

"I'm your worst nightmare," she said. "I am rich white trash."

Lest there be any misunderstanding, Linda Sarofim Lowe made her message clear repeatedly in later calls.

"If you and Fayez think that you can just hang up on me, you're wrong. You are absolutely wrong, because I will take you down, just like that -- everything. I hate you all."

A forceful Lowe spoke of a strange faith. "Get right over here, or I am going to burn the fucking house down, and I will be praising Allah in the front yard."

This former Army brat from Bad Kreuznach, Germany, the ex-mistress-turned-millionaire-wife-and-mother with the master's degree in English, appeared to have learned her lessons well under the tutelage of the black belt of marital torts.

In a tale that turned into Sex, Lies and Audiotapes -- River Oaks style -- she talked in the recorded messages of lost love and newfound fury.

Her wrath culminated in a lawsuit filed against Lilly late last year. She accused the prominent attorney of accepting a divorce case that conflicts of interest should have barred him from ever taking. And she alleged that he violated ethical canons by violating her; that he screwed her -- literally -- out of half of the $12 million cash payment from Sarofim.

Lilly, her suit maintains, applied his wily charms to try to woo her out of a new Ferrari as a bonus for settling the divorce. She rebuffed him on that effort. All he got from her, it seems, was a brand-new Mercedes.

"You can't keep on ruining my life," one of her taped messages said. "I hope the next time you take out that fucking Mercedes that I bought for $130,000, that you wreck it and you die."

Her suit says that when he had taken her and what she had to give, the romancing was over. Her court documents allege that Lilly left with his loot and dumped her cold and hard. When he walked out -- or rather, drove away in his Mercedes -- she was left with no more than faded memories and a fresh, unused $10,000 wedding dress.

She sued for breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract -- in other words, Lilly just got too big for his breaches. Lowe accuses him of civil fraud, intentional misrepresentation and infliction of emotional distress.

She wants an estimated $50 million in damages to chase away the demons left by Lilly, Lowe told Lilly's attorneys. She demands the return of her gifts, the final $6 million Lilly deposited from the Sarofim payment, and some $600,000 in other fees paid to the attorney and his firm, according to her lawsuit.

In short, Lowe wants a lot of things back. Lilly isn't among them.

The litigator who built his professional prowess on expressing moral outrage on behalf of clients is, ah, morally outraged at the vile assault on his character -- especially coming from the former client he himself had portrayed as a hapless victim of an overbearing ogre of a husband.

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