Kenneth R. Feinberg, the attorney running BP Plc’s fund for victims of the Gulf oil spill, told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce not to use his efforts as an argument to revamp the U.S. legal system.
Feinberg gave the keynote speech in the AIG-sponsored “Hall of Flags” yesterday at the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform.
He said he was “dubious” of efforts to use the BP fund, or other compensation funds he has administered, as a model to move other actions out of the traditional justice system.
“But actually implementing the concepts I’ve learned over the years from these unique tragedies, and applying them to a different situation, I suggest that it won’t work. That there are formidable, formidable obstacles to thinking that the BP escrow fund or 9-11 or Virginia Tech or Agent Orange [all funds Feinberg administered] offers us a ready-designed blueprint to replicate that type of thing. I don’t think so.”
Feinberg’s keynote speech was an ill-timed appearance, in the midst of the Chamber’s efforts to buy Tuesday’s elections by funneling millions of corporate dollars from secret donors into campaign advertising. It was also ill-advised, considering Feinberg’s job is to compensate victims of the BP oil spill, and the Chamber has made it its mission to limit all corporate accountability, including oil companies’ responsibility to spill victims. Consumer Watchdog pointed out the numerous conflicts of interest in Feinberg’s appearance in a letter to the President yesterday.
In a clear nod to the troublesome implications, Feinberg took care to tell the black-suited crowd of corporate lawyers that: “I think the legal system does a pretty good job.” He said that it usually isn’t a good idea to move questions of corporate wrongdoing out of court.
He also suggested a working group about legal reform. But the Chamber didn’t get the thumbs up it wanted from Feinberg’s speech, even though it used his mere presence to try and legitimize the concept. Of course, what the Chamber really means by “reform” is a get out of jail free card for every corporation that harms consumers, the environment, or democracy in the name of free enterprise.
The mission of the Institute for Legal Reform is to take away the public’s rights. Feinberg should have told the Chamber that if it wants to protect corporations from lawsuits, all they have to do is act more accountably. It’s a pretty easy formula. Stop ignoring safety rules until oil rigs erupt in the Gulf. Stop canceling patients’ health insurance when they get sick and need it most.