About 50 people gathered at the Harambee House hotel last night to launch a legal defense fund for Mary Treadwell, executive director of Pride, who is under investigation by a federal grand jury.

A group of 12 to 20 friends and Pride employes organized the cocktail party that was attended by Ivanhoe Donaldson, general assistant to Mayor Marion Barry and the mayor's closest adviser; school board member Barbara Lett Simmons, former City Council member Douglas Moore, Joe Yeldell, a former high ranking official; a number of black professional women and Treadwell herself.

Many said they came to show support for a friend, a woman who had made several contributions to the welfare of the city and a black leader under what they saw as an unfair attack by the city's news media and The Washington Post in particular.

Treadwell came under investigation last November with publication of articles in The Post detailing the theft of at least $600,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and low-income tenants by P.I. Properties, a real estate spinoff of Youth Pride.

Both firms are headed by Treadwell, who is the former wife of the mayor.

There has been no evidence that Barry is involved in the case.

Treadwell said even though she has not been accused of any wrongdoing by the judicial system, she will have incurred legal costs approaching $80,000 by August in her fight against the allegations.

She has sold her car and put her Capitol Hill home up for sale, but her legal bills are still "far ahead" of her ability to pay them, she said last night.

"Once the media makes charges [your] lawyers have to begin putting together a picture for you," she explained, and hire investigators and accountants. "There is not much accountability for the news media so they are pretty free to do what they want to do."

Florence Tate, former press secretary to the mayor, voiced the feelings expressed by many at the party when she said."She [Treadwell] has given a lot to this community for years so I think it is important when any of us is in trouble, to show support. I want to be sure she can defend and protect herself the best that's possible because she deserves that."

Sponsors of the party said they did not know how much money was contributed last night.

Gregory Harrison, an insurance agent for Mutual of New York and a sponsor, said he was lending his support because "I don't believe in the newspaper being the judge, jury and executioner, and I'm sick of what the newspapers are doing to disdain the black leadership in this town."

Yeldell, Moore and others spoke of what they perceived as an orchestrated attempt by the city's news media to discredit black leadership.

"Everybody in this community in a position of leadership can come under attack," said Yeldell, who was acquitted of bribery last year. "We have to stay together now because when it happens to you, you'll be looking for support."