The V-Word and Dick Grasso

Was Dick Grasso’s win in court yesterday a personal “vindication” for him?

That’s what The Wall Street Journal says in the second paragraph of its page-one story. The New York state appeals court ruling—on a technicality—lets Grasso keep all of his $187.5 million pay package, which he, ahem, earned as head of the New York Stock Exchange, which as a nonprofit was effectively subsidized by taxpayers by not having to pay taxes.

But down in the ninth paragraph the WSJ says the ruling is a “technical knockout” and that the court didn’t rule on the merits of the case. That’s hardly vindication for Grasso even if he did ultimately win. The New York Times doesn’t get to the technicality until the eleventh paragraph of its Grasso Wins story.

The court ruled that since the NYSE is now a public company, the state has no right to sue it for excessive compensation—even though the exchange was a nonprofit the entire time Grasso was its chief.

We’re pretty sure vindication is not what just happened, and we question the use of the term.

And if any legal principle was vindicated it was a fairly narrow one: An executive can have his way with a nonprofit and get off clean if it goes public before a court can rule on whether what he did was wrong.

This is not exactly Marbury vs. Madison material. Nothing was vindicated here, and that goes double for Grasso.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.