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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. I will continue to pray that God keeps giving you the strength and courage to keep fighting for what is right and just so you are aware, you are an inspiration to those that are feeling weak and helpless as they are trying to figure out why evil keeps winning. God Bless.....

  2. Some are above the law in Indiana. Some lined up with Lodges have controlled power in the state since the 1920s when the Klan ruled Indiana. Consider the comments at this post and note the international h.q. in Indianapolis. http://www.theindianalawyer.com/human-trafficking-rising-in-indiana/PARAMS/article/42468. Brave journalists need to take this child torturing, above the law and antimarriage cult on just like The Globe courageously took on Cardinal Law. Are there any brave Hoosier journalists?

  3. I am nearing 66 years old..... I have no interest in contacting anyone. All I need to have is a nationality....a REAL Birthday...... the place U was born...... my soul will never be at peace. I have lived my life without identity.... if anyone can help me please contact me.

  4. This is the dissent discussed in the comment below. See comments on that story for an amazing discussion of likely judicial corruption of some kind, the rejection of the rule of law at the very least. http://www.theindianalawyer.com/justices-deny-transfer-to-child-custody-case/PARAMS/article/42774#comment

  5. That means much to me, thank you. My own communion, to which I came in my 30's from a protestant evangelical background, refuses to so affirm me, the Bishop's courtiers all saying, when it matters, that they defer to the state, and trust that the state would not be wrong as to me. (LIttle did I know that is the most common modernist catholic position on the state -- at least when the state acts consistent with the philosophy of the democrat party). I asked my RCC pastor to stand with me before the Examiners after they demanded that I disavow God's law on the record .... he refused, saying the Bishop would not allow it. I filed all of my file in the open in federal court so the Bishop's men could see what had been done ... they refused to look. (But the 7th Cir and federal judge Theresa Springmann gave me the honor of admission after so reading, even though ISC had denied me, rendering me a very rare bird). Such affirmation from a fellow believer as you have done here has been rare for me, and that dearth of solidarity, and the economic pain visited upon my wife and five children, have been the hardest part of the struggle. They did indeed banish me, for life, and so, in substance did the the Diocese, which treated me like a pariah, but thanks to this ezine ... and this is simply amazing to me .... because of this ezine I am not silenced. This ezine allowing us to speak to the corruption that the former chief "justice" left behind, yet embedded in his systems when he retired ... the openness to discuss that corruption (like that revealed in the recent whistleblowing dissent by courageous Justice David and fresh breath of air Chief Justice Rush,) is a great example of the First Amendment at work. I will not be silenced as long as this tree falling in the wood can be heard. The Hoosier Judiciary has deep seated problems, generational corruption, ideological corruption. Many cases demonstrate this. It must be spotlighted. The corrupted system has no hold on me now, none. I have survived their best shots. It is now my time to not be silent. To the Glory of God, and for the good of man's law. (It almost always works that way as to the true law, as I explained the bar examiners -- who refused to follow even their own statutory law and violated core organic law when banishing me for life -- actually revealing themselves to be lawless.)

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