A Tennessee judge has been publicly reprimanded for complaining that the "Grand Wizard of the Supreme Court" was requiring people to wear masks in court to help stop the spread of COVID-19, records show.
The Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct issued the reprimand Sept. 28 against Coffee County General Sessions Judge Jere Ledsinger. The county is in southeast Tennessee.
Ledsinger made the remark in court July 16, an investigation found.
The "grand wizard" generally refers to the KKK leader. The board noted the judge made the "inappropriate" remark to an audience that included Black people.
Besides being racially insensitive, it also was disrespectful to the state Supreme Court, the investigation found.
"'In short, comments such as the one involved here, even if made off-the-cuff and with no intent to be offensive, reflect an ethical lapse that undermines public confidence that our judges are unbiased in fact and appearance," board chair Dee David Gay wrote.
Ledsinger has acknowledged he made the comment but said it was meant to soften resistance about the requirements to wear a mask because some people don't like them. The judge has also acknowledged regretting what he said, records show.
After the pandemic hit Tennessee, the state Supreme Court unanimously ordered a strict protocol in courts to try to limit exposure of COVID-19. People going into court are supposed to wear masks under the court's order, including the judge him or herself.
The board's action is posted on the Administrative Office of the Courts website.