The criminal tax evasion trial of prominent District of Columbia defense lawyer John A. Shorter Jr. ended yesterday with a federal prosecutor painting Shorter as a "sharp, intelligent lawyer" who decided that "the rules just simply didn't apply to him" and Shorter assailing the government's case as "hypertechnical" and "guesswork."
The jury of seven women and five men deliberated for about 1 1/2 hours last night before being dismissed for the evening by U.S. District Judge Harold H. Greene.
Shorter, 58, who is defending himself, is charged with one count of attempting to evade paying income taxes from 1972 to 1983 and six counts of failure to pay $287,600 in taxes, penalties and interest from 1978 to 1983.
He had contended he was not guilty because he was a "compulsive gambler" who intended to pay his taxes but was impoverished by an addiction to gambling.
But Greene denied Shorter's bid to call expert witnesses to testify on whether his "pathological gambling" forced him not to pay income taxes, and Shorter decided not to tesify.
As a result, he was unable to discuss his gambling problems in his closing argument and alluded only to "deeper reasons" for his actions.
Shorter claimed that the government had failed to prove that he acted willfully to avoid paying taxes. "It is not a crime not to pay taxes, just like it's not a crime not to pay Woodies or Hecht's," said the Georgetown University law school graduate, whose clients have figured in some of the city's most celebrated cases in recent years.
Prosecutors Carol E. Bruce and Darryl W. Jackson charged that Shorter deliberately evaded taxes by living a "cash life style" and hiding his assets in bank accounts under the name of his law partner. The government charges that Shorter paid $3,500 of $134,866 he owed in taxes for 1972 to 1983.
Shorter's alleged failure to pay taxes was not "accidental oversight or inadvertent error," Bruce argued. "The evidence is overwhelming that Mr. Shorter knew what his tax obligation was, knew what he owed and willfully failed to pay."
If convicted on all counts, Shorter faces up to 11 years in prison and a fine of $190,000.
The current case is the most recent in a series of tax-related problems for Shorter dating to 1968. In a 1974 case in federal court in Baltimore, Shorter pleaded no contest to one count of failing to file a tax return for 1969. He was placed on probation for five years, fined $2,000, and later suspended for six months from practicing law in the District as a result of the case.
According to the U.S. attorney's office, the government won a civil judgment against Shorter in 1968 for $9,290 in unpaid taxes for 1960 through 1963. In 1977, Shorter was sentenced to one year's probation and fined $1,000 after pleading guilty in D.C. Superior Court to failure to pay District taxes for 1968 and 1970. In exchange for Shorter's plea, charges of failure to pay D.C. taxes for 1969 and 1971-75 were dropped.
He decided not to testify in the pending case and rested after calling only two defense witnesses after Greene ruled that prosecutors could cross-examine Shorter about whether he had failed to pay income taxes or file returns during 1960-1972, before the period covered by the indictment.
Shorter's clients have included former D.C. Department of Human Resources director Joseph P. Yeldell, whom Shorter successfully defended against bribery and conspiracy charges involving the $5.6 million lease of a building owned by Washington developer Dominic F. Antonelli Jr., and prominent Washington lawyer William A. Borders Jr., who was convicted on charges of helping funnel a $150,000 bribe to U.S. District Judge Alcee Hastings of Florida.