Illegally dumped chemical waste, including the hazardous substance "methyl ethyl death," leaks where children play in the gunk.
Monk Agricultural Chemical Co. (MACC), a global leader in the agricultural chemicals industry with an excellent record of corporate citizenship, has been charged with violating state environmental laws, and the case has gone to trial.
One of many twists and turns in the case is that MACC had contracted out its waste disposal to the lowest bidder, now in bankruptcy, and had donated the land in question to an environmental group.
This is a mock trial, and the Glenelg High School students participating sound like lawyers and act like lawyers - eloquently making arguments, questioning witnesses, objecting on grounds of relevancy or scope. Counsel and witnesses are preparing for a Maryland competition, in which teams from 120 high schools statewide become the players in the fictitious case and argue before judges or lawyers acting as judges.
"If you can get past their age, they're lawyers," said Marcella Ruland, coach of the Glenelg team, whose defense defeated Centennial High's prosecution, 56-52, on Thursday at District Court in Ellicott City, kicking off the competition in Howard County.
Semifinals, finals in April
Winners chosen from this and other judicial circuits in Maryland will proceed to the semifinals and finals April 27 and 28 in Annapolis.
Points are earned for case presentation, but of equal importance is the score for courtroom etiquette, decorum, respect, courtesy and presence. It is possible to win the case on merits but lose when all points are tallied.
The case was received in November from competition sponsor Citizenship Law Related Education Program of the State Bar Association, and it contains stipulated facts and affidavits from the characters. The Glenelg group wrote its scripts for the lawyers and witnesses.
All of this preparation is done in addition to schoolwork with hopes of advancing to the state level.
Glenelg boasts an impressive mock trial history, winning county championships and competing on the state level.
Mock trial has become so popular that tryouts were held for the 12 coveted spots on the team.
"These are very interested and interesting students," said Ruland, a social studies teacher.
During a scrimmage Feb. 6 at Glenelg High School in preparation for the first match, the classroom became a courtroom.
The prosecution and defense sparred, honing direct-examination and cross-examination tactics, while witnesses practiced answering questions - trying not to slip up and give the other side points.
For the prosecution
Junior Jacob Hartman, 16, opened for the prosecution, listing the facts of the case. MACC produces hazardous waste, has community responsibility and has betrayed the public trust, Jason argued.
Defense lawyer Christopher Stanton, 17, responded by describing MACC as an environmentally sensitive company. It would not have done it - it could not have done it, Christopher said.
Freshman Erica Tilley played defense witness Bailey Jones. The cross-examination was nerve-racking, said Erica, but "it's always fun when I get up there."
Damon Krometis, 17, returning for his third year, enjoys participating in the trial process and prefers the prosecution side because it is where the burden of proof lies. Damon and many of the students also participate in drama.
"It's like one big legal improv," Damon said.
Ruland agreed. The participants really get into their roles, she said.
Amy Vance, 15, in her first year, said she has always wanted to be a lawyer. As Dr. Sidney Wickett, expert witness for the prosecution, Amy is learning how to slip in information during questioning and not let lawyers cut her off.
Suggestions from students
The teen-agers teased back and forth, laughing and joking, but at times became serious as they offered suggestions to improve their performance.
Rehearsal at school was the time to relax because there was no room for silliness in the courtroom.
Ruland concluded the practice by critiquing and praising the students, telling all to look at the judge.
Be aware of body language, she said, adding that there were a couple of hand-flingers.
"Witnesses, you have to speak up," the coach said. "Don't swallow the end of your sentences."