Judge reprimanded for apparent KKK reference when complaining about court mask mandate

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A Tennessee judge has received a public reprimand for complaining that the state supreme court’s “grand wizard” required that masks be worn in court.

Judge Jere Ledsinger of Coffee County, Tennessee, had made the remark in front of criminal defendants in the courtroom, including some who were Black, according to the Sept. 28 letter of reprimand by the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press and the Legal Profession Blog have coverage.

Ledsinger had acknowledged the perception problem created by his remark, made in mid-July and had expressed regret, according to the letter.

In his written response to the board, Ledsinger said he meant no disrespect to anyone, and the remark was intended to “soften any resistance by those present in the courtroom to the requirements of wearing a mask, as we have had negative feedback to this [supreme court] mandate.”

The board said judges are expected to maintain the highest standards of conduct and dignity, and they must be dignified and courteous.

“A participant in a legal proceeding who hears racially insensitive comments, such as the one involved here, may reasonably perceive that the judge is biased or prejudiced, regardless of whether bias or prejudice actually exists,” the board’s letter said. “It is essential that all persons appearing in our courts have confidence that the judge will dispense justice respectfully and fairly.”

The board also said the comment “impugned a higher court.” While there is no evidence Ledsinger intended to cast aspersions on any member of the Supreme Court, those who heard the comment had no way of determining intent, the court said. “Once such comments are made, the damage is done.”

The ABA Journal called Ledsinger at his court number for comment, but there was no answer.

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