The federal tax evasion trial of John A. Shorter Jr., a prominent District of Columbia defense lawyer, began in U.S. District Court yesterday, with Shorter's attorney portraying him as a man who always intended to pay his taxes but was impoverished by an addiction to gambling.

Federal prosecutors painted a different picture, saying Shorter did not keep personal checking accounts, instead accepting only cash from clients and paying cash for everything as a method of evading taxes.

A grand jury indictment last November charged Shorter, 57, with seven counts of tax evasion and failing to pay $287,600 in taxes, penalties and interest from 1972 through 1983.

The prosecution said Shorter, sometimes with the help of someone else's credit card, paid for luxury items such as a $5,000 watch, thousands of dollars in furniture and clothing from fashionable stores.

In opening arguments yesterday, an attorney for Shorter said the defendant had lived "a tragic life" because of his compulsion to gamble, which he said had started at the age of 16.

"His one wish, dream, intent was to have the big win so he could take care of his obligations, including his taxes," the attorney stated. "People will testify that he would say, 'I want to win to pay my taxes.' "