Judge to former Merrill CEO: Thains for the memories!

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New York State Supreme Court Justice Bernard Fried ruled that John Thain, former CEO of Merrill Lynch, was permitted to disclose information about bonus payments that went out prior to the Merrill-Bank of America merger. Previously, Thain had claimed that an agreement with Bank of America restrained him from answering questions about employees who received the $3.6 billion in bonus payments that he fast tracked before BOA's January takeover. Thain is expected to answer New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's questions this afternoon.

Although it's been over a month since John Thain resigned from his post at Bank of America, he's rarely been far from the headlines. Following the merger of Merrill Lynch and BOA, and the subsequent revelation that he fast-tracked bonus payments to Merrill employees, he has become a lightning rod for anger about corporate greed. Between the $10 million bonus that he allegedly angled for, his $1.22 million office redecoration, and the $3.6 billion in Merrill bonuses, he has rarely been far from the headlines, and the comments about him have rarely been good.

While there's something almost majestic about watching a soldier fall on a sword in defense of his or her values, Thain's attempt to stonewall Attorney General Cuomo has reeked of craven self-protection. Despite attempts to position Thain as a great leader who supported his underlings, it's pretty clear that this isn't Scooter Libby taking the heat for Plamegate or Colin Powell drawing fire for the war in Iraq. Rather, this sounds very much like a pampered exec trying to play his former bosses off against an angry government and a vengeful public.

As in so many of his other recent moves, Thain has displayed an inability to recognize that the business environment in the United States has undergone a seismic shift. His responses to Cuomo, filtered through his lawyer Andrew Levander, have sounded like an Abbott and Costello routine, with the lawyer telling government investigators that Thain wasn't so much refusing to answer as unwillingly being forced to remain silent by the big bad boys of BOA.

Thain has already released the names and compensation packages of the top five execs at Merrill; now it remains to be seen if he will reveal the identities of the roughly 700 employees who received $1 million or more before the BOA takeover. Even after he releases this information, it still might not be given to the public; on March 13, Judge Fried will make a ruling about whether or not it should remain confidential.
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