The process of picking a jury to hear the conspiracy and fraud case against Mary Treadwell started yesterday, slowed by a dispute over whether her lawyers would be allowed to have a consultant sit at the defense table to help them pick jurors.

By day's end, U.S. District Judge John Garrett Penn had excused 33 people from an initial pool of 100 potential jurors and, at least for the moment, required self-described jury and trial consultant John Johnson of Seattle to sit on a spectator's bench rather than at the defense table.

John W. Nields, one of Treadwell's court-appointed defense attorneys, asked that Johnson be allowed to sit at the defense table so that the attorneys could confer regularly with him about whom they wish to include or exclude from the eventual group of 12 jurors and six alternates.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William D. Pease told Penn that prosecutors were "taken by surprise" at Nields' request to have Johnson assist defense attorneys and said that it would be "entirely inappropriate to allow [Johnson] to participate directly" in the jury selection process.

The indictment against Treadwell, the former head of P.I. Properties, a defunct real estate affiliate of Youth Pride Inc., alleges that she used P.O. Properties to defraud the federal government and low-income tenants of thousands of dollars to pay her personal expenses and to finance private, profit-making ventures. She is charged with conspiracy, fraud, tax evasion and making false statements to federal officials.

Treadwell has steadfastly maintained her innocence of the charges. Four other people have pleaded guilty to a variety of charges stemming from the 2 1/2-year investigation of the case, and Treadwell is the only defendant whose case is going to trial.