Friday, December 31, 2010

Gulf spill fund czar paying for ethics advice

From Harry R. Weber of The Associated Press on Dec. 31:
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The administrator of the $20 billion fund BP set up to compensate Gulf oil spill victims is using money from it to pay for advice from a law professor who backs his assertion that he is independent from the oil giant.

A spokeswoman for the Gulf Coast Claims Facility told the Associated Press on Thursday that fund czar Kenneth Feinberg has agreed to pay for advice from Stephen Gillers, a New York University law school professor who produced a letter that says Mr. Feinberg is neutral and not subject to BP's control.

Some victims, lawyers and state officials unhappy with the claims process have questioned Mr. Feinberg's independence and suggested he is a pawn in a BP effort to limit its liability.

A statement Thursday from the fund said Mr. Feinberg asked Mr. Gillers for advice about a Nov. 24 letter from Louisiana Attorney General James "Buddy" Caldwell questioning the independence of the fund and Mr. Feinberg's role as the independent administrator.

In a letter to Mr. Feinberg, Mr. Gillers wrote: "You are not in an attorney-client relationship with BP. You are an independent administrator and owe none of the attributes of the attorney-client relationship (e.g., loyalty, confidentiality) to BP. By 'independent' I mean (and I think the context is clear) that you are independent of BP. You are not subject to its direction or control."

Spokeswoman Debra DeShong Reed couldn't say how much Mr. Gillers is being paid, only that it will be an hourly rate.

"We're waiting for the invoice," Ms. Reed said. "We've agreed to pay whatever it costs."


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