Louisiana Gulf spill fund czar paying law professor for ethics advice Some critics questioning official's independence from BP

By Harry R. Weber

Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The administrator of the $20 billion fund BP set up to compensate Gulf oil spill victims is using money from it to pay for advice from a law professor who backs his assertion that he is independent from the oil giant.

A spokeswoman for the Gulf Coast Claims Facility told The Associated Press last week that fund czar Ken Feinberg has agreed to pay for advice from New York University law school professor Stephen Gillers, who produced a letter that says Feinberg is neutral and not subject to BP's control.

Some victims, lawyers and state officials unhappy with the claims process have questioned Feinberg's independence and suggested he is a pawn in a BP effort to limit its liability.

Spokeswoman Debra DeShong Reed couldn't say how much Gillers is being paid, only that it will be an hourly rate.

Reed said neither Feinberg nor the fund have any past relationship with Gillers. She said he was chosen because he is a nationally recognized expert in the field of legal ethics. She referred further questions to Gillers, who did not immediately return calls from the AP.

Lawyers who have already filed more than 300 lawsuits on behalf of Gulf residents and businesses say Feinberg should stop calling himself independent.

So far, the fund has paid out roughly $2.6 billion. Money left over is expected to be returned to BP.

Published: Mon, Jan 3, 2011