It’s been a busy few days for Kenneth R. Feinberg: The Washington National Opera reappointed him last week as president of its board of trustees, granting him a third two-year term. And now President Obama wants him to oversee an escrow account funded by BP that will compensate the victims of the April 20 Gulf Coast oil spill.
Challenging? Yes, but whether it’s putting a value on the footage of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the use of “Agent Orange” during the Vietnam War, the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the Virginia Tech shootings or the global economic crisis, Feinberg is the go-to guy on some of the most emotional and legally challenging questions of the last decade.
The son of a tire salesman and bookkeeper from Brockton, Mass., Feinberg graduated from the University of Massachusetts and New York University Law School. He acted in college, briefly considered a theatrical career and teaches an opera course at the Levine School.
Feinberg once clerked for New York State Court of Appeals Chief Justice Stanley H. Fuld, served as chief of staff to the late Edward M. Kennedy and in 1984 helped settle a dispute between Vietnam War veterans and chemical companies that produced the herbicide known as “Agent Orange.”
“That one case, Agent Orange, changed my entire professional career,” Feinberg told The Post in January. He established a law firm specializing in dispute resolution and among other cases, helped determine that the heirs of Abraham Zapruder should be paid $16 million for his grainy film of the Kennedy assassination.
Compelled by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he volunteered to oversee the victims compensation fund established by Congress, embarking on a 33-month effort that included public forums and one-on-one meetings with victims’ families.
He led a similar effort in 2007, following the Virginia Tech shootings and for the past year has served as the Obama administration’s “Special Master for Compensation” (or “pay czar”), tasked with capping the salaries of executives at automobile companies and banks earning financial support from the government bailout.
He’s reviewing executive compensation plans at more than 400 financial institutions that received Troubled Assets Relief Program funds and in March announced pay cuts for 119 executives at American International Group, General Motors, Chrysler, GMAC and Chrysler Financial — the five firms that earned considerable assistance from the government.