JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ A judge whose perceived racist remarks polarized the community was allowed to remain on the bench in this northeast Florida district after the state Supreme Court removed him as chief circuit judge.

The state's high court on Friday ruled that the circuit's next most senior judge will take over for Judge John Santora, 69.

Earlier Friday, Santora objected to an attempt by 20 lawyers to have him removed over comments he made in an interview published Dec. 22 in The Florida Times-Union and in federal trial testimony.

In a legal brief, Santora denied that his comments have damaged the public's confidence in either the judiciary or his own impartiality.

The Supreme Court disagreed, voting 6-0 for his removal. Former Jacksonville Judge Major Harding didn't vote.

''The actions of the chief judge, both professional and personal, must be consistent with the highest ideals embodied by our law,'' the court's ruling said.

Santora's six-year term expires next January, and he has previously said he wouldn't seek re-election.

In the newspaper interview, he blamed school violence on integration, opposed interracial marriage and complained that most welfare recipients are black.

In the trial on judicial elections, Santora said the district has enough black judges, but needs more Jewish judges to work over the Christmas holidays. He later said his comments about Jewish judges were in jest.

No one answered the telephone at Santora's office or home after the ruling. Since the controversy erupted, Santora has remained silent except for a public apology earlier this month.

His brief said that early in his career as a judge, he initiated efforts to desegregate Jacksonville's municipal court and subsequently won strong support from black voters.

Santora, a circuit judge since 1972 and chief judge since 1985, is the top state judge in Duval, Clay and Nassau counties. Three of the 41 judges in the district are black. Twenty-one percent of the population is black.

Santora has rejected calls for his resignation. Marches both in favor of and against the judge have taken place in Jacksonville. The Rev. Jesse Jackson led two protests against Santora.