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.

However, Lowe's deposition testimony about her addiction could support her arguments that she was too unstable and irrational to comprehend the kinds of fee contracts that were presented to her by Lilly -- the ones that added up to the $6.7 million in payments.

Lowe also maintains that the romance with Lilly drained her of any objectivity to what was happening.

Barker questioned her about her claims of sexual relations with Lilly.
"It depends on what you mean by 'sexual relations,' " she said. "Hugging, kissing, yes, that went on for months and months."

They first had intercourse on the night of the Sarofim divorce decree in November 1996; then they made love in their hotel room in Acapulco ten days later, she said. Within weeks, they were at it again, this time in an apartment owned by a Lilly friend at the Carlisle Hotel in New York, Lowe testified.

Asked for witnesses to these sexual encounters, Lowe provided no names. She volunteered that her security staff at the River Oaks home would have seen Lilly arrive and depart the premises -- and the maids changed the sheets and may have noticed the stains.

Lowe also alleges that Lilly misled her about the divorce settlement offers from Sarofim. She said her ex-husband and his attorney, Keeton, told her earlier this year that they had made proposals to Lilly for even better settlement packages than the one Lilly advised her to accept. Sarofim and Keeton were denied a request to see the fee contract from Lilly, and Sarofim would have granted her "huge" monthly allowances had he known Lilly was working on a contingency fee agreement, she said.

"They had said since they were dealing with Earle and Bob [Piro] -- and since Fayez dislikes them intensely -- that he was trying to keep the cash settlement as low as he could" to avoid whopping payoffs to her attorneys, Lowe said.

She said Piro was to be the specialist in any property settlement, and he brought in Lilly as the attorney who was the child custody expert. Despite the public allegations of Sarofim abusing her, Sarofim gained primary custody. While terms of the divorce agreement remain sealed, Lowe's deposition describes standard noncustodial visitation rights -- Wednesday nights and alternating weekends with the children. Lilly's attorneys said that, given her addiction and abusive conduct to Lilly and others, she was lucky to get that much visitation.

Lowe blames her custody terms on the decisions and actions of Piro and Lilly in her case, and said she plans to seek more custody and visitation rights after this suit.

Lilly's attorney asked: If the divorce settlement was bad, if it denied her the kind of custody rights she sought with her children, then why didn't she reject it?

"I agreed to it because I didn't want to go to court. I never wanted to fight Fayez. I was too out of control, too embarrassed, too weak, too dependent. I didn't want to be a public spectacle."

"What were you embarrassed about?" attorney Barker asked.
"My alcoholism, my pill-taking; if any people thought I had a relationship with Earle Lilly, that was embarrassing. Just the whole thing was embarrassing."

Embarrassment, by all indications, has given way to more and more anger in one of the most contentious cases in Harris County. Attorneys chided each other during the April deposition over camera angles and even the seating beyond the wood-and-beveled-glass doors of Lilly's conference room. Lowe said she felt threatened by the close proximity of Piro and Lilly, and her attorney complained that the video-camera angles were designed to make her look deceptive in her responses.

Disputes over the deposition led to its entry into the official case file, infuriating Lowe attorney Phillips. Meanwhile, a flurry of subpoenas has been filed with state District Judge Tracy Christopher, to track everything from prescription records at the Avalon Drug Store to credit card receipts and emergency calls made from the Lowe home.

Phillips gained a confidentiality order to restrict the release of evidence gained through subpoena and the discovery process.

In life after Lilly, Lowe has found new love. She met her husband, Mason Abram Lowe, during her hospital commitment in 1997. Lowe testified that he is a former legal assistant who is a manic depressive.

Lowe credited her husband and his stability with breaking her of the Valium habit, which he accomplished by flushing two bottles of those pills down the toilet in March 1997. She said they have discussed buying property in Hawaii and relocating there, but those are not firm plans.

Lowe testified in the deposition that she busies herself with commanding the staff of servants, the cook, the gardener and the security personnel at her home, picking up her children from Sarofim on Wednesdays and alternating weekends for visitations, and serving on the boards of Houston Grand Opera and the Awty School.

Of course, she does manage to break away from that grind on occasion. Lowe said that since the divorce, she has eked out treks to Acapulco, New York, Italy, Africa, the Amazon, Los Angeles and twice to Paris. There were no frequent-flier miles on the trips to the beach house and ranch.

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