NEW ORLEANS - A law professor being paid $950 an hour with BP's money has declared that the czar of the $20 billion claims fund for Gulf oil-spill victims is independent of the oil giant.

Fund administrator Ken Feinberg said yesterday that he has agreed to pay NYU professor Stephen Gillers for his advice. Since being hired, Gillers has written a letter stating that Feinberg is neutral and not subject to BP's direction or control.

Feinberg said the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, created to administer payments from the fund to people and businesses, is billing BP for Gillers' services.

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

A statement yesterday from the Gulf Coast Claims Facility said Feinberg asked Gillers for advice about a Nov. 24 letter from Louisiana Attorney General James "Buddy" Caldwell questioning the independence of the fund and Feinberg's role as the independent administrator.

In a letter to Feinberg, Gillers wrote: "You are not in an attorney-client relationship with BP. You are an independent administrator and owe none of the attributes of the attorney-client relationship (e.g., loyalty, confidentiality) to BP. By 'independent' I mean (and I think the context is clear) that you are independent of BP. You are not subject to its direction or control."

The total amount Gillers will be paid is unclear. He said he is billing $950 an hour for his services and an assistant is billing $475 an hour.