Idaho U.S. attorney: I fought for equality at age 9

POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) -- Idaho U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson began her fight for equality at just 9.

Growing up in Pocatello, Olson wanted to play baseball and figured she was just as good as boys her age. So she ignored the "boy's only" rule, pinning up her braids under her ball cap and lining up a lawyer in case the league changed its mind about letting her play.

Now the top federal prosecutor in the state, Olson told the Idaho State Journal that the credit goes to her parents, William and Diana Olson, for instilling a fighting spirit in all their daughters.

"My parents taught their daughters they could do anything," Olson said.

Olson was confirmed U.S. attorney for Idaho by the U.S. Senate in June. The Stanford University graduate, who has served with the U.S. attorney's office in Idaho since 1997, replaced Tom Moss.

But Olson didn't always want to be a lawyer. She was studying international relations at the University of Southern California in the 1980s when she noticed how much fun her roommate was having in law school.

Her own graduate work paled in comparison, she said.

"I just thought the criminal cases were the most interesting," Olson said. "They were definitely about people."

After graduating from law school, she worked as a clerk for a federal judge in Washington state, then became a civil rights lawyer in the U.S. Department of Justice in 1992. Her first case involved a violent attack on the home of a black family from Alma, Ga.; nobody was injured, but bullets were lodged in the bedroom walls of the children's room.

Police called it a random attack, but an FBI investigation uncovered evidence of the shooters' history of racism. After the suspects were convicted, Olson said the victims told her nobody seemed to care about bringing them to justice -- until the federal government stepped in.

Olson returned to Idaho's U.S. attorney's office in 1997, taking over prosecution of health care fraud cases. More recently, she worked on the case of Joseph Duncan, the convicted child molester accused of killing four people and kidnapping two children in northern Idaho during a violent 2005 attack on a rural home.

Duncan received the death penalty for the crimes in Idaho.

Betty Richardson, the U.S. attorney for Idaho in the 1990s who hired Olson, said Olson's work has convinced her that she would be a candidate for federal judge one day.

Published: Tue, Oct 5, 2010