A judge will rule next week on whether the names of 200 top bonus earners at Merrill Lynch & Co should be kept confidential.

New York State Supreme Court Justice Bernard Fried said at the end of a hearing on Friday that he would issue a ruling within the next week in a legal tussle between New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Bank of America Corp , which bought Merrill on January 1.

A lawyer for Merrill and Bank of America told the judge that the names were a trade secret and should not be made public, citing concerns over competition, privacy and security of those personnel.

There are only five people in the company who would know all 200 names, lawyer Evan Davis said.

We're going to lose people, that is the competitive harm, that's what makes it a trade secret.

But a senior deputy of Cuomo, who has pressed for months for details on the billions of dollars paid to executives at banks given U.S. government bailout money, said Cuomo's office had the authority to make the names and bonus details public.

It's not like a formula of ice cream or a business plan, Eric Corngold, executive deputy attorney general of economic justice, told the judge.

Corngold said it was the nature of investigations to reveal information people may not want out on the street, but this is not a reason for the courts to handcuff the attorney general.

Cuomo's office is investigating whether $3.6 billion in bonuses paid to Merrill employees broke securities laws, and whether Bank of America should have disclosed more about Merrill's troubled condition sooner.

Merrill awarded bonuses just days before Bank of America completed its acquisition of the Wall Street investment bank and brokerage. Merrill lost $27.6 billion in 2008.

Bank of America has received $45 billion from the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program, including $20 billion in a January bailout that included a government agreement to share in losses on some toxic assets.

A Bank of America spokesman has said the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank has continually offered to provide Cuomo with information on Merrill bonuses subject to reasonable confidentiality.

Former Merrill Chief Executive John Thain and Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis have testified under oath to lawyers at the attorney general's office on executive pay.

The case is Cuomo v. Thain, New York State Supreme Court (Manhattan), No. 400381/2009.

(Reporting by Grant McCool; editing by John Wallace)