NEW YORK, May 25 -- It didn't take long for the case of New York state Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer vs. former New York Stock Exchange chairman Dick Grasso to devolve into the legal equivalent of a professional wrestling smackdown.
Day Two of the Spitzer-Grasso extravaganza began with a blistering newspaper opinion piece in which Grasso blasted Spitzer as a politically motivated opportunist and declared he would wipe the floor with the attorney general in court. Through a spokesman, Grasso also said he would invoke a clause in his contract and demand that the NYSE cover his legal bills in the evolving brawl.
Then Spitzer, who filed suit Monday demanding that Grasso return more than $100 million of $139.5 million paid to him by the exchange last year, jumped into the fray with a series of media interviews. He described his case in an interview with The Washington Post as "overwhelming" and promised to argue at least some of it himself.
Spitzer even took a shot at Brendan V. Sullivan Jr., Grasso's lawyer. Sullivan is known as a fierce courtroom advocate who, among other things, helped retired Lt. Col. Oliver L. North stay out of jail in the Iran-contra affair.
"I respect Mr. Sullivan enormously, he's a superb litigant, I look forward to doing battle with him," Spitzer said. "But let's remember, for all the bluster, Ollie North was convicted. The reversal was an aberrant circuit court opinion that was wrong on the law."
Sullivan, through a spokesman, declined to comment. But Grasso's side pointed out that of 16 counts against North, four were dismissed before trial. At his trial, North was acquitted on nine counts and convicted on three. The three convictions were overturned on appeal.
The sniping, meanwhile, did not stop with Spitzer and Grasso.
A source close to Kenneth G. Langone, the former chairman of the exchange compensation committee whom Spitzer also sued, made it known that Langone was considering a countersuit of his own. (Grasso has threatened to countersue for an additional $50 million he believes he is owed, promising to give any of his winnings to charity.)
On what basis would Langone countersue?
The source, who would not agree to be quoted by name because of the ongoing nature of the dispute, said he did not know. But Langone would certainly find something. The source also promised that Langone would conduct extensive and excruciating discovery, seeking to depose every former NYSE board member who voted on Grasso's pay to determine what information and documents the directors had when they cast their votes.