Watchdog Group Cites Conflict of Interest for Judge Ruling Against NSA Program

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A conservative watchdog group says the judge who declared President Bush's warrantless surveillance program unconstitutional may have a conflict of interest because she sits on the board of a foundation that has given money to the chief plaintiff in the case.

Judicial Watch, which advocates judicial accountability, said it discovered U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor's monetary tie after reviewing her financial disclosure statements.

The judge is the secretary and a trustee for the nonprofit Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan. The foundation's Web site shows it gave $45,000 to the American Civil Liberties Union to back a gay rights project. The ACLU has challenged the warrantless surveillance program.

"There has to be an appearance that justice is being fairly administered," Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said Tuesday. "The court's role in awarding a grant to the ACLU and whether or not that is an issue is something that needs to be fully examined."

Taylor declined to comment, as did the Justice Department, which is asking the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati to overturn Taylor's ruling issued Thursday.

ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Kary Moss said the group did not know about the judge's affiliation with the nonprofit but added she did not think it is a "big story."

"We don't think recusal would have been necessary," Moss said.

The foundation released a statement Tuesday saying Taylor is one of 50 volunteer members of its board of trustees, which oversees grant-making decisions.