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Letter penned by teacher placed on leave a point of contention for lawyers

The attorney for Patrick McLaw, an Eastern Shore teacher put on leave after concern grew about some of his writings and complaints authorities had received about him, decried on Wednesday the amount of detail released about his client in the widely followed case.

David W. Moore, McLaw's Salisbury-based attorney, said it was unfair for officials to disclose parts of a four-page letter written by his client that contained what authorities said sounded like suicidal language.

Moore also objected to authorities revealing that a teacher had contacted them to complain that McLaw frequently visited her and named a character after her in his self-published, futuristic novel about a school shooting.

"I'm not happy about any letter being disclosed," Moore said. "That isn't fair to my client. To me, that's a personal thing."

McLaw has not been charged with any crime.

Matthew A. Maciarello, the Wicomico state's attorney, said officials had to release some details about the case to quell an online furor over how McLaw, 24, was taken from his home last month for an evaluation at a local hospital and placed on leave from his job at Mace's Lane Middle School in Cambridge.

Before more was known, multiple online commentators expressed outrage that it appeared McLaw was being persecuted for simply writing a fictionalized account of a mass shooting set in the year 2902. On The Atlantic website, for example, officials were accused of "the Soviet-sounding practice of ordering an apparently sane person who has been deemed unacceptable by state authorities to undergo a psychological evaluation."

"We had to explain why law enforcement, why the Health Department, why the state took the action that it did," Maciarello said.

Maciarello said he only released portions of the letter, which was pertinent to why health officials believed McLaw needed to be evaluated. In the letter, McLaw said recipients could consider it his "memoir," "farewell address" or "resignation," and that he just wanted to be heard, according to Maciarello.

The letter was entered as an exhibit in a hearing before an administrative judge last week regarding McLaw, Maciarello said.

Moore said the letter was open to any number of interpretations — including that McLaw was simply writing a farewell to his employment. He also said the teacher's complaints about McLaw visiting him were resolved, and that the name of a character in his novel could be considered "poetic license."

Moore represented McLaw at the hearing but declined to reveal the disposition of the case or his client's whereabouts.

"He's in a good place," Moore said. "He is receiving treatment."

The vagueness with which officials characterized where McLaw was taken led to charges online that he was being held despite the fact that no charges have been filed. Maciarello said that put officials in a "no-win situation," in which they had to reveal details of why McLaw had drawn scrutiny and was ultimately placed on leave by Dorchester County schools.

Moore said he just wants to ensure that McLaw is treated fairly and through the proper channels.

"My focus is that these issues are addressed in a professional way," Moore said, "and that there's no rush to judgment."

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

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