Grasso rules out settlement of compensation suit

The Baltimore Sun

Richard A. Grasso ruled out settling the lawsuit that seeks to recover most of the $190 million he received as chairman and chief executive officer of the New York Stock Exchange, saying his reputation is at stake.

"In any litigation, settlement is an expediency, but in litigation where your good name is involved, you never pursue a settlement," Grasso said in an interview yesterday. "I put the odds at one in 100,000 at this point."

Grasso said the lawsuit, filed on behalf of the NYSE by New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, has prevented him from re-entering the work force. Spitzer sued Grasso in May 2004, eight months after he was ousted as chairman of the NYSE. He claimed Grasso's pay was excessive under laws governing nonprofit organizations, such as the NYSE.

For the past two years, lawyers in the suit have gathered more than a million pages of documents from the NYSE and obtained testimony from 60 executives and former board members, including Henry M. Paulson Jr., the former CEO of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., who was named U.S. Treasury secretary in July.

A trial, which will be decided by New York State Supreme Court Judge Charles Ramos, is scheduled for Oct. 16. Grasso appealed Ramos' decision to proceed without a jury in considering some of Spitzer's claims.

Spitzer's term as attorney general ends in December. He's currently seeking the Democratic nomination for governor of New York, which will be decided Tuesday. The general election will be held Nov. 7.

Grasso, 60, said in the interview that serious talks about settling the case haven't taken place. He said his pay was properly approved by the NYSE's board, and that he always accepted the compensation offered.

"Some of the most well-respected leaders from finance and corporate America decided what I was worth," he said. "I never asked for a nickel. The only thing I ever said about my compensation was 'Thank you. I'm blessed.'"

Marc Violette, a spokesman for Spitzer, declined to comment on Grasso's remarks.

Spitzer has argued that some of the details of Grasso's pay weren't disclosed to the board. He has also sued billionaire Kenneth Langone, the former chairman of the NYSE's compensation committee. Langone denies the claims and is fighting the suit.

Grasso joined the exchange as a clerk in 1968 and was named director of listings and marketing in 1973. In 1983, he became an executive vice president, handling marketing and was named president five years later. He replaced William H. Donaldson as chief executive officer and chairman in 1995, becoming the first staff member to rise through the ranks to lead the exchange.

Grasso said he recently helped create a security company in Amman, Jordan, and that once the litigation is over he might pursue work related to financing businesses in emerging countries. He declined to say how much defending Spitzer's lawsuit has cost him.

Grasso said the relationships he cultivated through his 35-year career at the exchange may help him start a "Chapter Two" once the lawsuit ends.

"I listed close to 2,000 companies; so I'm privileged to have relationships with chief executives from around the country and around the world," he said. "And you can expect it will probably be in that direction."

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