New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s lawsuit against former New York Stock Exchange chairman Richard Grasso has yet to receive a date on the court’s docket, but the defense is already fighting vigorously in the realm of public opinion.
Last week, Spitzer sued Grasso to recoup at least $100 million of the $188 million compensation package that ignited a public firestorm last year, costing Grasso his job just weeks after he signed a new contract.
After months of silence, Grasso has begun speaking out more frequently, using the media in what some think could become a scorched-earth campaign to embarrass the highly-compensated Wall Street executives who approved his pay.
In his first public comment, Grasso said in Newsweek magazine last month that he was ready to “go to war” to clear his name. Newsweek’s latest edition reported that Grasso intends to name Goldman Sachs Group’s chairman Hank Paulsen in a counter-suit.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece last week, Grasso announced that he would sue the NYSE for the $48 million he has yet to receive from his former employer, as well as damages for what he characterized as defaming “leaks orchestrated by” interim NYSE chairman John Reed.
“He seems to be communicating to others that he will not go down without a fight,” said Michael Weiser, a consultant to exchanges and chairman of New York-based strategic communications firm The Weiser Group.
By Grasso making clear his intent to implicate other figures in his pay dispute, “his hope is that will affect the calculation of others, and have influence on the outcome of the case,” Weiser said.
The mounting decibel levels in the press, as well what could become a show trial, could become problematic.
Many corporate titans were on the NYSE board and approved Grasso’s pay. Though Spitzer did not charge most of them with fiduciary lapses, they are likely to be called as witnesses at trial, which for some could become ungainly.
At a speech to the New York Financial Writers Association this week, Spitzer insisted his office had no formal “press strategy” of leaking information.