Penn State has hired Kenneth Feinberg, the attorney who oversaw the Sept. 11 victims compensation fund, to help settle claims by Jerry Sandusky victims against the university.
According to the university, the aim is to resolve outstanding lawsuits and expected ones by the end of the year.
Feinberg also ran the BP Deepwater Horizon fund to compensate those affected by the 2010 oil spill.
“We have been retained by Penn State to help both the university and individuals alleging sexual abuse reach a voluntary settlement in those individual cases where terms and conditions can be agreed upon,” Feinberg said in an announcement by the university. “We are not administering a compensation fund and have no binding authority to compel a settlement.
“We will merely facilitate the effort and only in those cases where individuals and their lawyers are so inclined. Having managed similar cases in the past, we are confident we can help all parties involved in this matter and are pleased to have been selected for such an important role.”
Michael Rozen from Feinberg Rozen LLP also will be working with the university. The Washington, D.C.-based firm handled litigation resolution from the Virginia Tech shootings and the Massey coal mine explosion in West Virginia in 2010.
Feinberg’s work has not been without criticism, including how he decided how much the Sept. 11 victims’ families should receive in compensation and the process families and businesses affected by the BP spill have had to go through.
In June, when asked about the Penn State case, Feinberg told the CDT that the university’s goal will be to bring together as many victims as possible.
“The question is, are they going to provide a generous program that really does encourage people to (participate),” he said at the time.
Attorneys have estimated that Penn State could face lawsuits with damages adding up to tens of millions of dollars.
University leaders have said they want to work with Sandusky’s victims but have been under fire for not moving quickly.
In June, President Rodney Erickson spoke of the university’s plans to ask Sandusky’s victims to participate in a claims resolution program.
“The purpose of the program is simple — the university wants to provide a forum where the university can privately, expeditiously and fairly address the victims’ concerns and compensate them for claims relating to the university,” Erickson said.
Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts for the sexual abuse of boys, some of which took place in Penn State athletic facilities. He is in Centre County prison awaiting sentencing, which is scheduled to take place Oct. 9.
In announcing the hiring of Feinberg, Erickson said, “In retaining Feinberg Rozen LLP, with their nationally recognized expertise, we are seeking to make sure we do the right thing in terms of providing a just outcome for the victims.”
“We hope to enable a process that will result in settlement of many of the civil cases so that the victims will not have to be drawn through a legal process,” he said.
Penn State is facing several lawsuits already and can expect more, both from the men identified as victims during Sandusky’s trial and alleged victims not part of the court proceedings.
Tom Kline, attorney for Sandusky Victim 5, said he views the appointment of Feinberg “as a constructive first step in the process of developing a constructive dialogue with the lawyer who represent various victims.”
Jeff Anderson, a lawyer for three alleged victims, also welcomed the move, while still expressing skepticism.
“Anything they do by way of action is better than simply words. So far all we’ve seen is public relations and words,” Anderson said. “If they actually have hired him to help them bring resolution and transparency ... I would consider that a positive step.”
Anderson said the process has to be transparent, including a vetting of what happened. He questioned whether that would be possible before the end of the year.
Penn State did not provide details on how much Feinberg’s firm will be paid. But, according to the university, information on those attorney fees will be posted on the Penn State “Progress” website with the monthly update on expenses associated with the Sandusky case. As of the end of June, those bills totaled close to $17 million.
The university has two insurance policies that it expects will cover most of the costs, but it is in a legal battle with one of those insurers.
Anne Danahy can be reached at 231-4648. Follow her on Twitter @AnneDanahy