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.

Sure, Lilly took aim at Sarofim and unleashed vitriolic barrages on behalf of Lowe. But that was different. That was another divorce case in a long line of such litigation for him. Could Lowe now be turning his own tactics against him?

"I've done nothing to be out Lilly-ed, so to speak," he says. "As tough as I am, I can't create 'facts.' The facts I applied in that [Sarofim] case were facts I obviously didn't dream up.... I believed at that time they were appropriate, and I believe at this time they were appropriate."

"There are a number of things in that [Lowe] lawsuit that are factually inaccurate and legally inaccurate," Lilly attorney James Barker maintains. "In other words, false factual claims as well as false legal claims."

Lilly says he did a superlative job for Lowe, "what I feel is perhaps the most outstanding case in my career."

In terms of fees received for a non-trial divorce settlement, it may be the most outstanding case for any attorney in Harris County, some other family-law lawyers opined.

"Word around the [courthouse] halls was that Earle got a good bonus, that it may have even been as high as $1 million," one attorney said. "This was a case that required a lot of 'hand-holding' for the client, so everybody figured he might have been worth it," the Lilly competitor said. "But $6 million? That's outlandish."

Lilly says it is misleading to believe that he would have demanded 50 percent of Lowe's total take from the divorce. The $12 million in cash was a small part of an estimated $50 million in property he managed to get for her, his defenders say. "I obviously don't want my reputation splattered with inaccurate facts or inaccurate contentions or claims or whatever," he says.

He threatens to sue Lowe for defamation, after the litigation. "Some day, there will be a lawsuit with the evidence that comes [from this case], and I believe all those [Lowe] claims will be flushed down the toilet, where they belong."

However, Lilly hesitates when asked if Lowe concocted the entire account of events contained in the lawsuit. He seems to suggest that, yes, there could have been romance -- but only after he had left his role of attorney.

Some facts in the suit are accurate, but they are not evidence of inappropriate acts on his part, Lilly says. He cites a confidentiality order gained by Lowe in the case and adds, "I don't know how far beyond that I can go."

In this case, though, Lilly hardly holds exclusive claims to moral outrage.
Attorney Richard Keeton branded the allegations by Lowe regarding Sarofim "scurrilous -- none of it is true." And the earlier accusations in the divorce case were equally groundless, Sarofim's attorneys said. Those allegations were never substantiated in any divorce proceedings. While veteran divorce attorney Roy W. Moore was brought in to engineer the divorce settlement, Keeton has represented Sarofim for years.

It is irresponsible for any publication to report the accusations and derogatory remarks about Sarofim, Keeton said. When specific answers were sought to the Lowe allegations, Keeton said, "Don't waste your time." Moore declined comment on the divorce case.

Sarofim finds another unlikely defender in Angleton attorney Michael Phillips, the lawyer for Lowe. He said he believes Lilly manufactured most of the inflammatory allegations against Sarofim in the divorce case. Phillips says Lowe already is being subjected by Lilly and his attorneys to irrelevant issues designed only to embarrass and intimidate her.

Phillips notes that it was Lilly and co-defendant Robert Piro, Lilly's partner, who filed the first lawsuit in the dispute with Lowe. That two-page document merely asked a judge to rule on the legitimacy of the fees. It refers to the payments as "substantial" but less than they could have received under the fee contract signed by Lowe. Gosh, their suit said, Lowe "may be dissatisfied ... for reasons unknown" to them.

Lowe benefited handsomely from their representation, they said. "There is nothing wrong in a large fee," Lilly said. "In our society, people make large fees. In all walks of life they make large fees: large corporate fees, large sports fees, large fees in certain circumstances in law and medicine."

Piro and Lilly have teamed up with an unusual helper -- Southwestern Bell CallNotes. In 153 recorded messages to Lilly's phone, Lowe lashes out at this former object of her affections. She threatens suicide, demands her gifts back, berates him as "fuck-wad" and "chicken shit" and disparages his family.

During Lowe's deposition in the case, Lilly's attorneys played two hours of tapes for which they sought explanations from her.

Lowe conceded that she had been involuntarily committed for alcohol and prescription drug problems earlier, and said she did not remember most of the calls. "I was out of control," she said repeatedly.

Her attorney, Phillips, praised his client's willingness to be subjected by Lilly's lawyers to hours of humiliating questions and tapes. "It took some real courage," Phillips said.

Lowe said she has regained her stability, and knows with certainty what Lilly did to her and why she is pressing her claims:

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