Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Judge's Ruling to Open Merrill Lynch Bonus List

Posted on Wed, Mar 18, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Unless the Merrill Lynch brokerage, now a unit of Bank of America, pursues a further judicial appeal, the list of executive bonuses paid out by the firm last fall must immediately be made public, a New York State judge ruled Wednesday.

New York state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who had issued subpoenas for the records, welcomed the decision by Justice Bernard J. Fried of the New York state Supreme Court, who ruled against the company's claim that releasing the names would be akin to revealing a trade secret

Said Cuomo:

"Today’s decision in the Bank of America case is a victory for taxpayers. Let the sun shine in. Justice Fried’s decision will now lift the shroud of secrecy surrounding the $3.6 billion in premature bonuses Merrill Lynch rushed out in early December. Taxpayers demand and deserve transparency and now they will finally get it.

"Bank of America chose litigation over transparency and we are gratified that this tactic has failed. AIG should take heed and immediately turn over the list of bonus recipients we have subpoenaed. The deadline for responding to our subpoena is tomorrow. More litigation is not the answer - it is time for AIG to come clean."

In political circles, Judge Fried's ruling means the imminent end of speculation as to whether -- and to what extent -- one of the bonus recipients was former Memphis congressman Harold Ford Jr., who became a Merrill Lynch vice chairman in 2007 and continues to work for Bank of America, which acquired the troubled brokerage late last year.

As his statement Wednesday indicates, Cuomo has condemned the bonuses, totaling some $3.6 billion, contending that the timing of their issuing, earlier than customary, meant that American taxpayers were, in effect, picking up the tab for them via several massive federal bailouts subsequently paid to Merrill Lynch/Bank of America.

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