“Remember, it’s only money,” Fauquier County Circuit Court Judge William Shore Robertson reminded the law teams for Jack Kent Cooke’s estate and his spurned widow, Marlena Kent Cooke, last week.

That’s easy for him to say.

It may be only dinero, but there’s a bunch of it at stake. Marlena is seeking $275 million, a full third of the late Redskins owner’s $825-million fortune. That could make her the richest Bolivian woman alive, and certainly grant her automatic entree into the city of Cochabamba’s social whirl should she lose the appeal with her U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service pursuers and wind up back in her hometown.

And John Kent Cooke has his reasons for playing for keeps. Beating Marlena out of the bucks will allow him the freedom to buy his late daddy’s football team. If he fails, he becomes titular head of the Redskins, serving at the whim of a bunch of bankers. Not a lot of job security there.

The trial took place in Warrenton, Va., a genteel hunt-country burg where every other woman seems to wear an item of clothing emblazoned with a fox’s head encircled by a hunting horn. The locals tried to plug their collective noses and ignore the circus of performing cameramen and reporters. But inside the courtroom, interested parties were clearly riveted by the proceedings at hand. Jack Kent Cooke’s youngest son, the only living male heir, leaned forward from his seat in the last row in the same pose he affects when watching a Redskins kickoff. Some 20 feet below him, his younger stepmom Marlena was dressed for business: a Chanel-style suit topped off with severely pulled-back hair. She even took off her sunglasses once she got inside.

Marlena arrived at the courthouse with her Armani-dressed 25-year-old son, the Christian Slater double Rodrigo. A few observers mistakenly speculated that young Rod was her new beau. She was also flanked by Brendan Sullivan, a local legal legend who gave the courtroom crowd a good show.

According to Sullivan, Marlena’s sign-off on the prenup was a picture of duress, with Jack Kent Cooke literally dragging her away when she asked to examine the fine print. And after Jack died, Sullivan claimed that hired goons, at the behest of John Cook, raided the house while Marlena was grieving, taking papers and documents without permission. Sullivan, of Williams and Connolly, suggested that the same forces repoed one of her cars (titled to the Redskins) off the lube rack. Sullivan seemed shocked, at least for the benefit of the court, that such hardball tactics were being played with the bereaved widow.

Representing the estate was the boyish-looking Dan Webb, whose previous star turn was as defender of another rogue, Congressman Dan Rostenkowski. He didn’t address the estate’s alleged strong-arm methods. He focused instead on Marlena, arguing that she broke her prenup by not living with the late squire as “man and wife,” a reference to her tendency to be elsewhere when the lights went out in the royal bedroom.

This wasn’t the first time that Robertson sat in judgment over the disposition of resources between Jack Kent Cooke and one of his exes. In 1989, he heard Suzanne Cooke, wife No. 3, tearfully describe Marlena as a drug dealer extraordinaire. One wonders if the judge’s prior peeks into Marlena’s substantial reputation may serve as a source of appeal down the road if things don’t go her way.

Marlena had better hope that Robertson is feeling a little more kindly toward the fairer sex these days. In the earlier case, Suzanne asked for a $15-million divorce settlement from the mogul and instead got $29,000 a year in child support, which led her to say she might have to live (horrors!) “in a two-bedroom apartment in Manassas.” She managed never to have to move to the Prince William community, but she did continue to appear before Robertson, asking for a raise in child support. He never relented.

The upshot of last week’s proceedings was that Robertson didn’t buy Marlena’s demands for 10 grand a month in living expenses or a continuance of the Saturday-night salsa parties at the house where the Redskins owner dropped dead on the floor of the library in April. It was a setback, but Sullivan—perhaps as homage to his late mentor, Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams—told the press that “this is just the first inning,” even though Marlena left court looking like she had been kicked between the uprights.

Marlena will presumably repair to a west Alexandria apartment she has owned since the early 1980s. The 11th-floor digs, in an area of town called “condo canyon,” bears the prefix “Watergate at,” but has neither the cachet nor the look of the D.C. original. The flat has three bedrooms, a pretty good view of I-95, and a spectacular bathroom with noir porcelain fixtures including a bidet and an ink-black Jacuzzi that seats more than one.

The tub might be just the thing for soaking away a dark mood. Round 2 is scheduled for April.CP