Eleanor Holmes Norton and her husband, offering a new account of the origins of their tax controversy, said yesterday that Edward Norton stopped filing the family's D.C. tax returns in 1982 because he couldn't find the proper form and assumed he was owed a refund.

The account differed from the Nortons' previous explanation that Edward Norton filed a D.C. tax return for 1982, but did not file in subsequent years because of a dispute with the city over how much the couple owed for 1982.

In a luncheon interview with Washington Post editors and reporters, Eleanor Norton, the Democratic nominee for D.C. delegate, said she couldn't explain why her husband stopped filing D.C. taxes and couldn't get a satisfactory response. "I don't understand why all of a sudden in '82, the {tax} filing which he consistently made stopped," she said.

Later in the day, Edward Norton said in a telephone interview that he did not file a 1982 D.C. tax return because he could not immediately locate a D.C. tax form and he allowed the matter to "slip."

He said he did not feel pressure to file the tax return for 1982 because he had received tax refunds from the city in previous years.

"I simply did not get around to it," Edward Norton said. "In my head, I was letting my money sit around in someone else's pocket."

Explaining that she has now taken over responsibility for tax matters and other family finances, Eleanor Norton indicated yesterday that she has recently made additional payments to the D.C. government for past obligations, which she adamantly refused to describe. She said she didn't want to provide a basis for "more stories" about her tax difficulties.

The tax controversy surfaced Sept. 7, the Friday before the Sept. 11 primary election, after someone anonymously sent news organizations copies of a 1989 lien placed against the Nortons for failure to pay their 1982 taxes.

Norton responded by disclosing that her husband, who handled their taxes, had not filed D.C. returns for tax years 1982 through 1989.

She amended that statement during a Sept. 9 interview, saying that her accountant believed a return had been filed for the 1982 tax year. Norton said her husband received an assessment from the city indicating that about $10,000 was due, while he believed the family owed only $3,700. She has said this dispute prompted his subsequent decision not to file.

"What he did was put it aside," Norton said in the Sept. 9 interview. "He didn't pay it because he said that was ridiculous."

Edward Norton held a news conference the next day, during which he also indicated that the returns were not filed because of a dispute with the city.

"The amount of money, which I knew was not accurate, was something that I was going to pay, but to be straight up with you, I didn't pay," he said at the time.

However, Eleanor Norton, citing tax records she recently obtained from the D.C. government, indicated yesterday that the previous explanation for the failure to file was mistaken.

The documents show that Edward Norton first received what he considered to be an excessive D.C. tax assessment on Aug. 24, 1984, well after Norton had failed to file returns for 1982 and 1983.

Eleanor Norton said that, with the exception of the 1989 return, her family has filed federal tax returns on time and has no outstanding federal tax liability.

Norton said she was completely unaware that her family was delinquent in filing their tax returns and attributed the lapse to her husband, a local lawyer and former chairman of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, who she said traditionally handled the family's finances.

Despite the last-minute disclosure about her tax problems, Norton won the Democratic primary to succeed Walter E. Fauntroy as the District's nonvoting delegate with 40 percent of the vote. She faces Republican Harry M. Singleton and three independents in the Nov. 6 general election.

After the primary, Norton announced that she had paid the D.C. government nearly $90,000 in back taxes, penalties and interest and had started separating her finances from those of her husband.

Norton also indicated that according to city records of the Nortons' tax history recently obtained from the D.C. Department of Fiance and Revenue, the District government made no effort to collect taxes from the Nortons for tax years 1983 through 1989, a period in which the Nortons have acknowledged not filing city income tax returns.

Norton provided copies of records that indicate that the city sent six notices to the Nortons in an effort to collect money it believed the Nortons owed from 1982, beginning with an Aug. 24, 1984, notice.

In that notice, the Finance and Revenue Department told the Nortons that a computer match with federal records indicated that the Nortons had filed a federal return for tax year 1982, but not a D.C. return. The form indicated that the Nortons had $109,044 in federal adjusted gross income for the year in question and owed $10,755 in D.C. taxes, plus a $2,689 penalty.

According to the D.C. tax records, the Nortons were sent subsequent notices from the government on Oct. 15, 1985; Dec. 15, 1985; May 9, 1986; and Jan. 8, 1988; followed by the placement of a lien on the Nortons' Capitol Hill house on Jan. 18, 1989.

Edward Norton said he received no other notices from the D.C. government about problems in any other year -- "nothing ever about any year but 1982."

Eleanor Norton said she was unware of the receipt of any of the notices, saying that she habitually turned over any envelopes from the D.C. government to her husband.

She said her husband became angry after receiving the first notice in 1984 and thought the city's calculations of the tax owed were wrong.

The city said the Nortons owed $10,755 in taxes, but that did not take into account about $5,000 in tax payments to the city that had already been withheld from their paychecks, Norton said yesterday.

She also said the city calculated the tax liability by figuring a standard deduction of $1,000, when the actual deduction should have been $14,000 or $15,000.

"They made a large error," she said. "That's what started this dispute."

But she added, "He should have filed even if he disagreed with this."

Referring to the notice from the city in August 1984, Edward Norton said, "That's when I got angry and crazy."

On other matters, Eleanor Norton said all the evidence that she and her accountant uncovered in reviewing the family's financial records suggest that the family has paid all its federal taxes and filed the federal returns in a timely manner.

She said that the accountants discovered canceled checks to the federal government in Edward Norton's files, as well as copies of some of the federal returns. She said the accountants also sought to recover copies of some of the federal returns from the government because they were not all in her husband's files.

Norton also produced an Oct. 2 letter from her accountant affirming that on their federal returns, the Nortons only claimed as state tax deductions those amounts that had been withheld from their paychecks over the years.

For instance, the Nortons claimed a $5,093 deduction for state taxes on the federal return for 1989 -- the amount that had been withheld from their salaries in that year -- but they claimed none of the rest of their local tax liability as a deduction, according to the accountant, Ralph Bazilio.

In reviewing her finances and separating them from her husband's over the last six weeks, Norton said her accountants came across some other debts owed by the family. "There were payments owed to commercial debtors and there were payments that were occasionally owed to District of Columbia government agencies," she said.

"We have found some gaps here and there," Norton said.

However, she said, the debts "are not of public concern," and she refused to detail what they are. She said that the nearly $90,000 she has already announced paying the city government constitute the "bulk" of the amount owed.

Norton said part of her reluctance to detail the specific sums stems from her feeling that The Washington Post has been irresponsible in reporting on her tax problems, and has tended to exaggerate the importance of what she termed minor issues. She cited a recent Post report that she was a few weeks late in filing her 1989 federal return.

"I'm just not going to be a part any longer of creating those stories," she said.

She also criticized Post editorials and articles that she said contained a "heavy presumption against my truthfulness."

"It does seem that The Post has gone out of its way to construe events in a way calculated to show that I'm not truthful," she said. "I'm very concerned about that. If, in fact, that's the overall impression, it is very hard to uncreate that impression.

"I would have thought that my reputation would have counted for something," she said, referring to her years as a civil rights advocate, chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and law professor at Georgetown University.

Asked whether the tax situation had prompted any formal change in her relationship with her husband, Norton replied, "No formal change at the moment."