Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. employees who received $3.6 billion in bonuses in December may be publicly identified as part of New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's probe of the company, a judge ruled Wednesday.

New York Attorney State Supreme Court Justice Bernard Fried in Manhattan rejected an argument by Bank of America Corp., which bought Merrill on Jan. 1, that compensation information was a trade secret. He also said employees can have no reasonable expectation of privacy in the information when they are free to share it.

"The Martin Act vests in the Attorney General the discretion to decide whether to keep the information that he gathers in the course of his investigation secret or public," Fried wrote in a 16-page decision, referring to a New York securities law. Bank of America, he said, has no "privacy interest that undermines that statutory discretion."

Cuomo has sought the information for his probe of the bonuses, which were granted in late December.

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