Kenneth Feinberg

Article excerpt

Byline: Lloyd Grove

America's go-to guy in calculating life's worth.

When bad things happen and damages are due, it has frequently fallen on Washington lawyer Kenneth Feinberg to decide how much cash goes to whom--thus his unlikely career as America's King Solomon.

The wiry, balding Feinberg, an increasingly familiar face on television post-disaster, has tackled numerous baby-splitting dilemmas as the government-appointed special master with authority to settle million-dollar claims arising from the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, and the 2010 BP oil spill, among other catastrophes. As he explains in his new book Who Gets What, his task is to maximize prompt, fair payouts and minimize dilatory litigation.

It's no surprise that frazzled officials at Penn State University recently consulted the 66-year-old Massachusetts native, a former Judiciary Committee staffer to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, about setting up a fund to pay off the victims of convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky.

"I gave them some ideas. They said, 'Let us think about it.' Never heard another word from them," Feinberg says in his pungent New England accent. "If it's bad and there's damage, chances are I'll still get a call or an inquiry, asking how we might do it? Or should we do it? I give them my thoughts."

Feinberg--whose boutique law firm specializes in mediation and dispute resolution--has been in this unusual line of work since 1984, when federal judge Jack Weinstein appointed him to mediate the $180 million settlement for 250,000 Vietnam War veterans who were exposed to the defoliant Agent Orange. …