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Attorney General John Ashcroft has appointed Kenneth R. Feinberg as special master for the U.S. government’s compensation fund for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and their families. Feinberg will play a key role in determining how much money victims and their families will receive and how the compensation program will operate. The fund, established by Congress shortly after the attacks, is to commence Dec. 21 and will disperse money in amounts yet to be determined to cover lost wages and pain and suffering. Beneficiaries of the fund will forego their right to sue the airlines involved in the attacks. Feinberg, who has divided his career between New York and Washington, D.C., brings to the job a lengthy list of credentials in alternative dispute resolution. He was a special master in the Agent Orange cases involving soldiers claiming they were injured by defoliation chemicals used by the U.S. government in Vietnam. He also worked on asbestos litigation, a class action involving the Shoreham nuclear power plant in Suffolk County, N.Y., as well as litigations concerning breast implants, the pregnancy drug DES and the Dalkon Shield IUD. More recently, Feinberg, who has his own firm, The Feinberg Group LLP, served as one of two arbitrators who guided the negotiations that led to the settlement of the German Holocaust claims. Feinberg, who went to New York University School of Law, was a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of the New York’s Kaye, Scholer, Fierman, Hays & Handler from 1980 to 1993. (The firm is now known as Kaye Scholer). Prior to that he was an assistant to Senator Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and special counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He formed his own firm in 1993, with offices in New York City and Washington, D.C., specializing in alternative dispute resolution. The selection garnered high praise. “I don’t think [Ashcroft] could have appointed a better person,” said Jack B. Weinstein, U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of New York. “He is clearly the best qualified person in the United States for this kind of work.” Feinberg served as the special master for Judge Weinstein in numerous mass tort cases, including the Agent Orange, asbestos, breast implant and DES litigations. Judge Weinstein added that he found it “commendable that the Attorney General didn’t consider any political or other matters and just chose the best qualified person for the job.” Leo V. Boyle, president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, also lauded the appointment. “Ken Feinberg has become the most important person on earth to thousands of devastated families, and he has exactly the right resume for this job,” he said in a press release. Feinberg has his work cut out for him. As special master, he will decide difficult issues such as whether the program should reimburse victims’ lawyers and whether people dissatisfied with their award can appeal. One of the thorniest issues Feinberg will face is whether government compensation should be reduced by the amounts received from pensions, insurance payments, charitable contributions or other collateral sources. The enabling statute dictates that such amounts should be taken into account, but does not specify which sources should be included in determining reductions in awards. The program was set up to serve as an alternative to lawsuits against the airlines, several of which claimed that without government relief, the Sept. 11 attacks would likely bankrupt them.

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