Gavel at a table
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A District Court judge will no longer be allowed to oversee multiple lawsuits related to botched Hurricane Ida evacuations because of his outwardly contentious relationship with one of the attorneys in the law firm representing the accused owner. 

The ruling was handed down by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday against State District Judge Donald Foret, who himself had questioned whether he could be impartial in the case. Foret acknowledged his antagonistic history with attorney Jason Baer, who shares an attorney with the defendant, controversially facility owner Bob Dean, NOLA.com first reported

Foret reportedly called Baer “a piece of (expletive)” in May after the latter crashed a vehicle onto the judge’s property, which shows “substantial and objective bias,” according to the appeals court. The comment was made from the bench. 

The ruling comes after another judge in May ruled that Foret could remain on the case after finding that he didn’t have any bias against Baer, according to the report. Dean’s attorneys subsequently asked the appeals court to review the matter. 

“The animus publicly displayed by Judge Foret in crude and expletive language towards a non-party, Mr. Baer, could cause a reasonable observer to wonder to whom such animus may be next directed, particularly anyone who had any type of relationship with Mr. Baer,” the court ruled.

Public outrage followed the late-August 2021 evacuation of more than 800 residents to a warehouse as Hurricane Ida approached. The botched evacuation led to the deaths of about a dozen residents. The residents were all from facilities owned by Dean, 68, who also owned the warehouse. He is now facing a slew of lawsuits as a result. 

Dean was arrested on cruelty and Medicaid fraud charges in June following a 10-month investigation into the evacuations. He was subsequently released on a $350,000 bond.

He had reportedly reached a settlement agreement earlier this month with residents and family members over the botched evacuations but the deal is now in limbo after some plaintiffs questioned the final details.