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Bra trick at Mass. school committee meeting ruled private

By Steve Damish, managing editor, The Enterprise of Brockton, Mass.  

In September 2011, chairman Russell FitzGerald began the Abington School Committee meeting in typical fashion – by performing a simple magic trick. He had done it several times before, making items disappear, guessing cards, once pretending to sever the finger of the superintendent.
This time, with the meeting under way and local cable television cameras humming, FitzGerald took it further. Enlisting the help of committee member Ellen Killian and a former Abington teacher of the year, he performed a trick making it seem as if he had removed Killian’s bra.
The two-minute trick involved FitzGerald and the teacher pulling a knotted handkerchief – placed near Killian’s chest – from either side and making a bra appear.
It did but in the process FitzGerald made his political career vanish.
The trick caught Killian off guard as she turned red and returned to her seat. She and the teacher later both said they were caught by surprise. Days later, FitzGerald resigned from the committee.
But despite this fallout, the state has ruled the public doesn’t have the right to see the trick, which was broadcast live that night and recorded by Abington cable access.
The Enterprise of Brockton, along with The Associated Press, requested the complete recording that week from school Superintendent Peter Schafer. He said no, offering instead an edited version that didn’t contain the magic trick.
Both news organizations appealed to the state, but Supervisor of Records Shawn Williams rejected the appeal, saying, “This office finds that release of the withheld portion of the recording could serve to further embarrass and ridicule the female committee member.”
One expert in public records and First Amendment law said he was “amazed” by Williams’ rejection.
“This is really a form of governmental and gender paternalism,” said attorney Jonathan Albano, of Bingham McCutchen, LLP. “I’m not aware of any situation where something that happened at a publicly televised government meeting was considered private.”
Albano said the law is clear on this matter.  “Things that happen in public are not private and since the video shows why the chairman resigned, it’s part of public knowledge,” said Albano.
The Enterprise is considering another appeal.
FitzGerald, a contractor, told the newspaper recently he has abandoned politics but still dabbles in magic.

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