The Grasso judge’s other comp case

October 20, 2006, 11:24 PM UTC

Judge Charles Ramos, who ruled yesterday that former NYSE chairman Dick Grasso should cough up a large chunk of his controversial $187 million compensation package, authored another famous ruling in which he tried to pare down someone else’s giant payday. In that case, however, his ruling was opposed by Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, and Ramos was also ultimately reversed.

The tale is recounted by Reynolds Holding in his forthcoming article about Judge Ramos, which is scheduled to appear on the new Web site on Monday afternoon (October 23). Dirk Olin, the director of Institute for Judicial Studies, which runs that site, has kindly agreed to let me publish excerpts here. (Holding is a contributing writer there.)

Ramos’s other famous comp case arose out of the $206 billion global tobacco settlement of 1998, in which state attorneys generals, assisted by private contingent-fee plaintiffs attorneys, had sued the major tobacco companies seeking Medicaid reimbursement. For the New York portion of the award, an arbitrator had awarded six NY law firms $625 million, which came to a payment of about $13,000 an hour.

Holdings continues: “In 2002, the arbitrators’ award was submitted to Ramos. But instead of confirming the award, Ramos challenged it, a move opposed by the lawyers, the tobacco companies, and Attorney General Spitzer. Spitzer’s office argued that challenging the fees might jeopardize the entire settlement, but Ramos would not budge. ‘A legal fee must pass the test of reasonableness,’ he wrote in an opinion freezing the payments. . . . The New York Appellate Division ruled unanimously that Ramos lacked the authority to review the fees . . . .”

The JudicialReports article analyzes Ramos’s reversal rate as follows: “From 2000 through 2005, 267 of the judge’s rulings were appealed. Higher courts affirmed 182 and reversed 85, a [reversal] rate of 31.8 percent that ranks him 22nd of 62 judges, or within the top 35 percent, in the Manhattan civil term.”

But whether Ramos’s new ruling on Grasso’s compensation holds up or not, it at least appears to assure Eliot Spitzer that he’ll make it through the election without any major embarrassment in the case.