Last year's Federal Court acquittal of fired HealthSouth founder and CEO Richard Scrushy surprised many stockholders. The Alabama company, which had interests in Oklahoma, was the subject of allegations of insider trading and abuse by corporate officers.

Stockholders filed a lawsuit in 2002 and a state court ruled this past week that the $47.8 million in bonuses Mr. Scrushy received while he was CEO between 1997 and 2002 should be returned.

Despite the acquittal, the judge said since the payments were made based on a cooked set of books, they ought to be returned to the company.

Mr. Scrushy said the junior officers perpetrated the fraud without his knowledge. Whether or not Mr. Scrushy knew of the scheme didn't matter, the judge said.

Fifteen former HealthSouth executives pleaded guilty to the fraud. Five of them were the finance chiefs who reported directly to Mr. Scrushy.

The company is also asking the federal government to return $265 million in taxes it paid on money it didn't really ever earn. The "overstated" earnings led to the bonuses. The combined amounts could help shore up HealthSouth's current finances.

The state court ruling will be appealed and Mr. Scrushy and HealthSouth have filed lawsuits and countersuits against each other. But the judge's ruling should give stockholders some sense of justice, knowing they can still have a stake in the outcome.

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