By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Nutter administration has lost in its legal battle to tax lap dances performed in the back rooms of strip clubs.
Lawyers for the city had gone before Common Pleas judge Ellen Ceisler, arguing that the city’s Tax Review Board last year was wrong when it said the city’s amusement tax was too vague to be applied to lap dances.
But Judge Ceisler, ruling from the bench, today upheld the board and quickly threw out the appeal.
“The ruling is simply that the (tax) ordinance, as it exists, as it’s currently worded, doesn’t cover lap dances,” says attorney George Bochetto (at left below), who represents two of the three clubs that were being taxed. “If the city wants to tax lap dances, they can go to City Council, ask City Council to amend the ordinance, and they can start imposing a tax on lap dances. Or anything else they want: karaoke songs, piano playing. Anything they want. But you have to put it in the ordinance. You just can’t make it up as you go along.”
Club Risqué and Cheerleaders, represented by Bochetto, faced tax bills totaling nearly $900,000. A third club, Delilah’s, was assessed more than $630,000 in back taxes, interest, and penalties for lap dances.
The Tax Review Board in October ruled that the amusement tax law is so vague that it can only be reasonably applied to a club’s cover charge, not to other activities.
Delilah’s attorney, Stephen Howard (right), was also gratified with the judge’s swift ruling:
“I think the courts have essentially borne out our conclusions all along, that the city never really had a good case. The case never really should have even gone this far.”
But the city has the right to continue the legal battle to Commonwealth Court. City solicitor Shelley Smith told KYW Newsradio this afternoon that the administration has not yet made a decision on an appeal.
Bochetto believes any further effort by the administration to tax lap dances would not sit well in any court.
“I think the swiftness of Judge Ceisler’s ruling sends a message to the city that it’s time to give it up,” he said today. “It’s time to call it a day.”