Linda Ekstrom Stanley, the former US trustee for Northern California Bankruptcy Court who sued Attorney General John Ashcroft last July for firing her a year earlier while she was embroiled in the Pacific Gas & Electric bankruptcy case, agreed to have a federal magistrate hear her claim. The Department of Justice (DOJ), however, wants a higher judge to decide the dispute. Until mid-2002, Stanley was active in PG&E's bankruptcy case and had urged that ratepayers' interests be adequately represented. That included her support of an unprecedented?but unsuccessful?push to create a committee to represent consumers. The DOJ wants a federal judge appointed for life, known as an Article 3 judge, to hear the case Stanley filed this summer, in place of a magistrate, or Article 1 judge, who is appointed to a limited term. "I would think which judge heard the case was more important than which type of judge," said Marc Stickgold, professor of constitutional law at Golden Gate University. Perhaps the motion involves a procedural advantage that could affect the pace at which the case is decided, he added. Stanley filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on June 30, 2003, alleging Ashcroft violated the separation of powers doctrine by canning her because she was appointed to a five-year term fixed by federal lawmakers. "The attorney general can't eviscerate a term of office created by Congress," Stanley, who had two years left in her term, said. She also argued her abrupt termination violated her due process rights under the Fifth Amendment. The suit seeks a declaratory judgment that Ashcroft lacked the authority to remove her prior to the expiration of her term and that she be allowed to finish her final two years. Ashcroft claimed the then-new Bush administration could make its own trustee appointments. Earlier, Stanley filed a petition for review at a little-known federal board, the Merits Systems and Protection Board, which hears federal employee grievances. The administrative board has yet to rule on her claim, which was filed last year. President Bill Clinton appointed Stanley to a five-year term in 1994. Clinton's AG, Janet Reno, appointed her to a consecutive five-year term in 1999. Stanley generated considerable controversy in the PG&E dispute with her proconsumer stance, including when she balked at hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney and consultant fees the utility asked the bankruptcy court to approve. The DOJ is expected to file its brief specifying why it is seeking a reassignment of the case to a federal judge in the next few weeks.