Former Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. chief executive John Thain has been cleared by a judge to identify the Merrill employees who received bonuses shortly before the brokerage firm was acquired by Bank of America Corp. last month.
In subpoenaed testimony last week, he told officials from New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's office that Charlotte, N.C.-based BofA forbade him from disclosing the names of New York-based Merrill workers who were given the largest payouts from the firm's $3.6 billion bonus pool last year.
Mr. Cuomo's office took that matter to New York State Supreme Court yesterday, arguing that Mr. Thain's refusal to name names was obstructing his office's investigation into the Merrill bonuses.
The judge ruled last night that Mr. Thain is free to discuss the identities of specific Merrill workers with Mr. Cuomo's office. However, while he can share names with the attorney general's office, their identities may not be disclosed publicly at the moment.
Scott Silvestri, a spokesman for BofA, said that the bank is “pleased with the ruling, which is consistent with the company's position all along that the information is private and should remain private to protect the rights of the individuals and the competitive position of the company.”
Mr. Cuomo's office has argued that Mr. Thain “secretly” moved up the timetable to pay out these bonuses before it was officially acquired by BofA Jan. 1. Merrill determined its bonus pool on Dec. 8, Mr. Cuomo's office alleged, before it was revealed that the company would post a $15 billion loss for the fourth quarter.
Of the $3.6 billion in Merrill's 2008 bonus pool, $848 million, or about 25%, was apportioned to about 150 people, Mr. Cuomo's office noted.