Wall St. ‘pay czar’ lands another job

Brockton native to manage fund for oil spill victims

Kenneth R. Feinberg, a former aide to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, managed funds set up for survivors of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre. Kenneth R. Feinberg, a former aide to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, managed funds set up for survivors of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre. (Bebeto Matthews/ Associated Press)
By Bryan Bender
Globe Staff / June 17, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Kenneth R. Feinberg has been Washington’s point person on matters of compensation for the past decade, from how much titans of Wall Street should receive in pay after their firm pocketed federal bailout money to how to value the loss of a firefighter who died trying to rescue people at the World Trade Center. Now the Brockton native and former chief of staff of Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s office is being asked by President Obama to parse out the details of who owes what to whom in the BP oil disaster.

Feinberg, 64, has spent a career arbitrating thorny disagreements and damage claims, and, despite his own apparent misgivings about it, placing a price tag on lives lost — from the victims of Agent Orange and asbestos to the families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and of the 2007 shooting rampage that killed 32 people at Virginia Tech.

Now he will turn his attention from public outrage at bank executives to the fallout from the environmental disaster that killed 11 people and shattered livelihoods along the Gulf Coast.

“Ken has long experience in such matters, including running the fund that compensated the victims of 9/11,’’ Obama said after meeting with BP executives at the White House yesterday. “And I’m confident he will ensure that claims are administered as quickly, as fairly, and as transparently as possible.’’

BP will establish the fund, but Obama and company executives agreed that it will be managed independently.

“It will be put in an escrow account, administered by an impartial, independent third party,’’ Obama said. “So if you or your business has suffered an economic loss as a result of this spill, you’ll be eligible to file a claim.’’

A three-member panel will adjudicate claims that are turned down, Obama added, stressing that affected individuals and states will retain the right to present their damage claims in court.

Feinberg, a graduate of the University of Massachusetts and New York University Law School, spent five years as a top aide to Kennedy before starting several Washington law firms.

He has maintained close ties to the Kennedy family, most recently representing Vicki Kennedy, the senator’s widow, in trying unsuccessfully to keep the Massachusetts lawmaker’s voluminous FBI file from public view.

Feinberg has been involved in a series of other high-profile cases over the years. He was the court-appointed “special settlement master’’ for claims by Vietnam veterans who suffered health effects from the use of Agent Orange, a chemical defoliant, and he adjudicated personal injury claims from exposure to the microscopic fibers of asbestos, a construction material blamed for causing mesothelioma, a fatal lung disease.

He also served as one of the three arbitrators who determined the fair market value of what is known as the Zapruder film, the most famous footage of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

Feinberg, who teaches at Georgetown Law School, has said he believed the 9/11 compensation fund — in which families received an average of $2 million — could have been handled more fairly, such as giving someone the authority to give the exact same amount to each family, as was done in the Virginia Tech case.

“Don’t ask one person to act like Solomon and try to calculate the value of lives,’’ he told Washingtonian magazine in 2008. “To be judge, jury, accountant, lawyer, rabbi, et cetera, is very, very difficult.’’

Bryan Bender can be reached at