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Judge Tells Grasso, Spitzer to Settle

April 07, 2006|From Bloomberg News

A New York judge called for an out-of-court settlement Thursday in the case over former New York Stock Exchange Chairman Richard Grasso's $190-million pay package and rejected an attempt to delay a trial.

"This case begs for a settlement," state Supreme Court Judge Charles Ramos told lawyers for Grasso and New York Atty. Gen. Eliot Spitzer at a hearing in Manhattan. "It's not going to do anyone any good to try this case. You have to start talking to your clients about how we settle this."

The comments mark the first time Ramos has called for the attorney general, Grasso, and his co-defendant, Kenneth Langone, to settle their differences without a trial.

Spitzer sued Grasso and Langone, the former head of the NYSE's compensation committee, in May 2004, to return most of Grasso's pay. Spitzer, Grasso and Langone have all said they won't settle.

"He realizes that there is generally no common sense in having to try this case, because in the final analysis, it's just about money," said Charles Stillman, a lawyer at Stillman & Friedman in New York. By dismissing the NYSE's effort to push back the trial to February from October, Ramos is saying, "Hey, if you want to go to trial, you'll have to do it soon."

Spitzer, 46, has argued that Grasso's pay violated a New York law on not-for-profits because it was "unreasonable." Speaking at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan as the hearing began, Spitzer said there haven't been settlement talks between his office and Grasso, 59, or Langone, 70, the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot Inc.

"I can say with absolute certainty, there will be no settlement talks as long as I am attorney general," Spitzer said. "This case is way beyond the point of settlement."

Spitzer, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for New York governor, leaves office Dec. 31. The election is to be decided Nov. 7.

After the hearing, lawyers for Grasso and Spitzer left the door open to settlement talks.

"If the judge directs the parties to talk, and they want to talk, we will talk," Assistant Atty. Gen. Avi Schick said.

The judge's comments about seeking a settlement were "entirely understandable," said Gerson Zweifach, Grasso's lawyer.

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