As settlement master for Agent Orange and asbestos litigation, to arbitrator on the Zapruder Film and Holocaust litigation, to serving as Special Master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and TARP Executive Compensation, Kenneth Feinberg has a long a history of determining “Who Gets What” - the title of his new book.
The final chapter of his book looks at the “Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico” in which he played the role of government appointed administrator of the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster Victim Compensation Fund.
He offers a few words on some Mississippi elected officials, particularly Attorney General Jim Hood, then Governor Haley Barbour and U.S. Senators Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran.
In Mississippi, Attorney General Jim Hood, in a tight race for reelection, and a favorite of the trial lawyers suing BP, was a consistent, ongoing critic (and remains so to this day). No effort by the GCCF [Gulf Coast Claims Facility] to address his daily criticisms had any impact. He was determined to politicize the entire debate. Hood had no Gulf Coast equal when it came to attacking both the GCCF and me personally. At one time he stated, “[...]Given the number of complaints lodged against the GCCF by Mississippi claimants, I am compelled to conduct an investigation.”
Hood then went one step further. He held his own town hall meetings and offered to assist any Mississippi claimants who formally authorized him to review their individual GCCF files. Hood received 155 authorizations, and he demanded complete access to all of them. The GCCF complied.
We never heard another word from him about any of these 155 claims.
But more than any other politician, Mississippi governor Haley Barbour gets my vote as a profile in courage. Testifying before a House Congressional Committee assessing the Gulf recovery efforts post-oil spill, Barbour was asked what he thought of the GCCF and its ongoing effort to compensate claimants. Expecting a broadside attack directed at the GCCF and a gratuitous swipe at the Obama administration, committee members must have been surprised by the governor’s answer:
“I’m a recovering lawyer, OK? Do I know that a judge has ruled that the Gulf Coast compensation facility, whatever it’s called, that that is not truly independent of BP, and that may legally, technically be right. I think they are trying to do a good job. We don’t get many complaints in Mississippi. They’re doing something that’s complicated, and I will say this about it. It is sure better than having to litigate all this, where people wouldn’t get their money for years and years and years, and the trial lawyers would get half the money. So it is a long way from perfect, just like what I do is a long way from perfect. But I think it is better than the alternative of litigation. And as I say, we have cases that are difficult cases where people are not satisfied. But we really don’t get many complaints, and we’ve been paid-Mississippi companies, people have been paid about 340 [million dollars], $350 million.”
This was a rare and gratifying public admission that the GCCF was doing a difficult job well.
I was also amused by, and grateful for, a joint letter that Senators Vitter, Cochran, and Wicker sent to President Obama and released to the press early in 2011. Despite all the criticism I was receiving in the Gulf, they were concerned that I would resign as GCCF administrator….Their letter implicitly acknowledged that much of the criticism already directed at me was unjustified; in any event, they wanted to make sure I stayed the course.