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Amid legal dispute, nudist hunkers down in cabin

Justice System

Catherine Holmes' route home in Davidsonville takes her on a quarter-mile walk in the woods, over a fallen tree, through a shallow stream and along a swaying cable bridge to reach her log-sided cabin.

Then she climbs through a window to get in.

Holmes locks both doors from the inside when she leaves because she's worried about what might happen in her absence. And she seldom leaves. The 54-year-old nudist is in a legal dispute with her landlord, a nudist club called the Maryland Health Society Inc., which has ordered her off the property.

"They're trying to steal it from me," Holmes said of the cabin, for which she paid $10,000 on a 46-year lease in 2010, plus about $15,000 in improvements.

Holmes claims in a lawsuit in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court that the society revoked her membership and her rights to the cabin because she complained about sexual activity at the camp. She said the society used to offer the purist nudist experience she sought but has become more of a "sex club."

A lawyer defending the society dismisses her claims as "unsubstantiated." He argues THAT the 79-year-old club revoked her membership because she told the board of directors she was selling her long-term cabin lease and wanted out.

"She did ask to leave the club. … Then she had seller's remorse," said Paul S. Blumenthal, an Annapolis attorney who represents the board and asked its members not to speak publicly about the case.

Holmes, whose standoff has gained national attention, acknowledges that she's been trying to sell the cabin to escape what she considers a sexualized atmosphere. But she insists that she never meant to give up membership.

She needs to keep club privileges to show the cabin to prospective buyers, and said she still has friends at the club and enjoys the bucolic surroundings.

Established in 1934, the club lies on 98 acres of woodlands crisscrossed by streams near the Patuxent River in southern Anne Arundel County. There are 25 cabins on the grounds, along with a clubhouse, pool and bath house.

Holmes, who has visited a number of nudist camps in Maryland and other states over the past 15 years, has been a member of the Maryland Health Society for about 10 years.

She's never seen anyone having sex in the open but heard reports of that happening from other members. She also said she has seen a sexually suggestive sign posted at the club, one member wearing genital jewelry and another drinking from a phallic "sippy cup" in the club's common areas.

In January, the board invited her in an email to a meeting to talk about her statements to "outside guests" that club members are "swingers." Holmes wrote back that she could not make the suggested date for a meeting, but was willing to talk to the board.

She reminded the board she wanted to sell her lease "as soon as possible," asked to discuss an "exit strategy" and referred to herself as a "departing member." In an interview, she said she wanted to talk about a negotiated departure and the possibility of the board buying her out of her lease.

In her view, she had 43 more years to work something out with the board.

The board didn't see it that way.

In February, she received an email saying the board "fully supports your request to leave the club and will not be renewing your membership for 2013." A month later, the board returned her $400 check for 2013 membership dues.

The board's position "came as a complete surprise," she said in a June court hearing.

Holmes is seeking a $1 million judgment against the society. So far, the court has denied two of Holmes' motions to stop the club from restricting her access to the camp. A pretrial conference is scheduled for January.

Judge Michele D. Jaklitsch also sided with the club on a key point, saying in the hearing that Holmes "didn't want to be a member and she's clearly not a member now."

Club members called Anne Arundel County police twice in the spring to report Holmes for trespassing — once when she was at the pool, and again when she was visiting a friend. She was not arrested either time.

On a third occasion, when she planned to visit someone in a cabin, she said she called the police herself to let them know they might be getting a call about her movements.

After the court hearing, she found a letter posted on her door, notifying her that her lease had been terminated and she was barred from the club property. Days later, she returned to find the entry codes changed on the key pad at the main gate, and the door to her cabin padlocked.

"I was shocked," said Holmes, who uses as her official address her parents' home in Falls Church, Va. "Why are they locking me out?"

The lease agreement says the board of directors can revoke the pact if the leaseholder is no longer a member, and the club is not obliged to compensate the leaseholder for time left on the lease. Under the agreement, the leaseholder is responsible for the cost of any improvements and maintenance.

Holmes' lawyer, Thomas Giunta, said his client has a valid lease, and to bar her from the cabin the club would have to go through a formal eviction proceeding and get a court order. He said the club may drive her out without going through that process, unless "she has the stamina to resist that sort of treatment."

Holmes, who has also filed a complaint of housing discrimination with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, says she does. She has responded to the lockout by, in effect, locking herself in.

Other than the occasional doctor's appointment and social visit, she said she's spending most of her time at the cabin, which measures about 500 square feet.

She's worried someone might try to damage her property, or hurt her cat, Midnight — hence the ritual of locking the two doors from the inside and climbing through the window. A friend has removed the padlock installed by the club.

"I just wanted to make it hard for anyone to get in," she said. So far, it appears no one has.

She insists she will remain, perhaps even through the winter. The cabin is not insulated, but it is equipped with a wood stove.

"I want my money, I want to be able to sell it to someone," Holmes said. "I'm not leaving until I get something."

arthur.hirsch@baltsun.com

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