It was mid day in Portland, Oregon and a verbal battle raged on in the Federal Courthouse.
Defense attorney Marcus Mumford was not happy about something that happened during the Federal Conspiracy trial of Ammon Bundy and six others.
Judge Anna Brown had listened patiently to his argument but was ready to move on.“Three times now is enough!” she said to the lawyer.
But your hon, your, your honor, I, I, I, you, y, you... he began in a stuttering reply, politely but firmly pushing back.
And so it went, back and forth for weeks as the lead defense attorney in one of the highest profile federal cases in the country stuttered his way through his arguments.
I've worked as a journalist for more than 30 years and I've never covered a court case with a lawyer who stuttered. Marcus Mumford, agree with his tactics and clients or not, is someone who reminds us we can always find a way around the apparent roadblocks of life.
During moments of argument with the judge or questioning witnesses, Mumford would at one moment be speaking in a smooth voice then suddenly the stuttering would begin. The day I watched, I found myself holding my breath, waiting, hoping, pleading silently that the words would flow again. And they always did but sometimes it seemed to take forever. If it was that hard for me, I can't imagine what it was like for him.
Mumford graduated from Utah State University in 1996. In 2010 he returned to the school to give a talk on overcoming obstacles in life and offered up a glimpse into his battle with speech.
In an article written for the October 31, 2010 edition of Hard News Cafe, Alex Thatcher quoted Mumford as he recalled being diagnosed with stuttering as a 4 year old. As he grew older his parents sent him out to sell cub scout cookies like all the other kids.
“I came home without selling one cookie,” he said. “I hardly even managed to get a word out. But my mom was gutsy and she made me go right back out and try selling again. The second time, I sold them all. This was the first step I took in my life toward becoming one who acts and is not just acted upon.”
Reading further, it seems Mumford was determined to follow his passion for the law and not let anything stop him.
“As a stutterer, I had to create a new reality for myself,” Mumford said. “I had to be audacious enough to jump into it [the law], even though the world wasn’t prepared for a stuttering lawyer.”
Think about the courage that takes. Its not exactly a rare challenge, the government reports 3-million Americans stutter. But how many have the guts and passion to enter a profession, which in its most focused moments, require speaking in public? I suspect that number is extremely small.
I'm not endorsing his tactics or politics or clients.
But in the tens of thousands of stories I've covered, I know when I've seen something rare and inspiring. Marcus Mumford is both.