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But that wasn't true, as Van Voast's lawyer, Ron Kuby, discovered when he reviewed security tapes of the incident. "They tried valiantly to cover her up with their jackets," Kuby says, adding that a few moments later, "the cops just hauled her away."
Van Voast was charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct, and possession of marijuana (in her purse). The case was dismissed.
All the arrests had a common thread: Van Voast would tell her arresting officers that public toplessness had been legal in the state since 1992, when the landmark case People v. Santorelli affirmed equal treatment of men and women vis-à-vis public shirtlessness. The officers, she says, always seemed clueless about the law and about what to do with her.
On May 20, 2012, after Van Voast appeared topless at the Bronx Day Parade, police sent her to a medical facility yet again, this time Montefiore Hospital in the Norwood section of the Bronx, where, she says, two officers handcuffed her to a bed for several hours.
On July 7, Van Voast decided to celebrate the anniversary of Santorelli by appearing topless outside a Hooters restaurant. Two police officers quickly approached and told her to put a shirt on. She declined. The number of officers kept growing, and Van Voast kept refusing to get dressed.
"That was so common — having six to eight cops just like, 'What do we do with this? What do we do?" she says.
Eventually, they bundled her in an ambulance and sent her off to St. Luke's–Roosevelt Hospital, where she spent another long night under "psychiatric evaluation" before being released.
Ron Kuby sports a graying ponytail and round, silver-rimmed glasses. A recent day at his Chelsea office finds him dressed informally (Yankees T-shirt, scuffed dress shoes) and drawing from a limitless supply of boob jokes.
"My particular favorite was when we were trying to consolidate a number of her cases," he says. "We succeeded, but then she got arrested a couple more times. I looked at the judge and said, 'Since we were last in front of Judge White, Ms. Van Voast has had two outstanding busts. I would like to send these two to Judge Whitten, unless Your Honor would like to handle them yourself.' The D.A.'s office, they were fucking cracking up. The judge played it really straight, but she got the joke."
Kuby has represented a number of nearly naked clients, including 31-year-old Amy Gunderson, who was arrested during the 2001 Coney Island Mermaid Parade while wearing a thong and body paint and won $10,000 when she sued the city for violating her civil rights. He also represents photographers of the naked: He's the longtime counsel for Spencer Tunick, famous for his mass nude portraits.
"That was the one that got us to the Supreme Court," he says, gesturing to one of several Tunick photos on the wall, depicting a pale (and likely chilly) group lying supine in an intersection near Times Square. Noting the abundance of pubic hair in a few of the older photos, Kuby adds, "you can actually date these things based on that."
In representing Tunick, Kuby also helped establish that in New York City, as a matter of law, people have the right to be fully nude in public as long as they're doing a "play, public performance, exhibition, or show."
Says Kuby, "The only thing New York City has criminalized is what I call 'nihilistic nudity': You wake up, don't feel like putting on clothes, and walk out the door."
Van Voast and Kuby now consider one another close friends. She has retained him ever since an unfortunate incident with a court-appointed lawyer: The man was nearly 90 years old. When he showed up to represent her for the Grand Central bust, she promptly took her shirt off in court. No one knew what to do, least of all her counsel.
"He just — it was like in Raiders of the Lost Ark when the guy's face melts," she remembers. "He was outraged. They didn't know what to do." After a few tense moments, the judge and the lawyers managed to recover. (The case was eventually dismissed.)
Kuby and Van Voast are a more comfortable attorney-client fit ("I respect her particular breed of zaniness," Kuby says fondly). The lawyer says he's baffled by the sheer number of arrests Van Voast has racked up. Police officers seemed almost magnetically drawn to her, and he can't quite figure out why. He thinks it may have to do with her age: She was 46 when she started her topless reign. "I've been thinking about this for a long time, and I haven't had a lot of satisfactory answers," he offers. Then, bluntly: "Holly is not a cute chicky."
Van Voast agrees. "I'm an older person," she says. "It took guts for me to go out. I'm not really pretty. I have decent boobs, thank God."
Per Kuby, "The police and city's response to a 22-year-old model walking around with their shirt off is very different than the police response to Holly bare-breasted with her mustache and her Marilyn Monroe hair. There is a real gender-bending, gender-confusion, gender-challenging presentation that Holly gives. I think it bothers a lot of people at some sort of deep level that I'm not qualified to assess. It really does."