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Sept. 11 victims fund chief shares poignant, practical experience

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Kenneth Feinberg brought tears to many of the attorneys who heard him speak Tuesday at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis about overseeing the compensation fund for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Giving people an opportunity to be heard validates the process,” Feinberg said, recalling some 900 hearings that took place in the weeks after the attacks, when Congress set up an unprecedented and uncapped victim compensation fund. Feinberg said the stories remain powerful and haunting.

He relayed the experience of talking with a mother of two whose firefighter husband died in the response to the attack on the World Trade Center. The woman insisted she be compensated within weeks.

When Feinberg asked why, the woman said she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and had only 10 weeks to live; the children’s father had been the parent who was going to raise them. Feinberg said aid was expedited to establish a trust for the children, and the mother died soon after.

“The stories you hear, you can’t make up,” he said.

Feinberg spoke on the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks and participated in a panel discussion with Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller and attorneys involved with efforts to provide compensation to Indiana State Fair stage collapse victims. The event was moderated by I.U. McKinney School of Law professor Robert Katz.

Zoeller praised Feinberg’s pro bono assistance in helping devise a plan to distribute the $5 million allowed by the Indiana Tort Claims Act to State Fair stage collapse victims. Zoeller said he contacted Feinberg for advice on handling compensation and Feinberg volunteered in a spirit that was “overflowing with generosity.”

“Ken said, ‘I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, what you’re going through,’” Zoeller recalled.

Feinberg offered three tips for success for people who deal with victim compensation funds: Get the money out fast, get it out without condition, and don’t expect thanks or appreciation.

“The biggest mistake I ever made,” Feinberg said, was telling a man who lost his son on Sept. 11, “I know how you feel.” The man reacted with measured scorn, Feinberg said, saying that he knew Feinberg had a difficult job, then telling him, “you have no idea how I feel.”

“I’ll never say that again,” Feinberg said.

The advisability of victim compensation funds also is a question of law and public policy, Feinberg said, explaining that they can be seen as unjust “absent a tragedy that’s going to galvanize a community.”

He said even with the Sept. 11 victim compensation, questions arose from victims of the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center of why they were uncompensated. “There are all sorts of challenges to the legitimacy of these programs,” Feinberg said. “Bad things happen to good people every day, and you don’t have access to an accelerated legal system.”

Feinberg, who also is overseeing the $20 billion compensation fund for the BP Gulf oil spill, is the preeminent expert in the administration of victim compensation funds. He has overseen compensation funds for the victims of the Virginia Tech school shootings that killed 32 and the Rhode Island nightclub fire that killed more than 100, among others.

Zoeller said Feinberg’s experience helped Indiana officials navigate the unfamiliar territory of mass disaster claims.

“While we hope we are never faced with another such tragedy on state property, the model he helped the attorney general’s office develop in the first phase of compensation could be utilized again here and in other states,” Zoeller said in a statement.

The Legislature has since approved an additional $6 million for the stage collapse victims.

 

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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