Jury selection began yesterday in the trial of Prince George's County Council member Anthony J. Cicoria after the judge and attorneys in the theft case agreed to proceed without Cicoria's wife and co-defendant, Catherine Cicoria, who disappeared before the trial's scheduled start last week.

Once a jury has been impaneled in her absence, Catherine Cicoria cannot go on trial with her husband. She will face a separate trial if she surrenders or is arrested, lawyers said.

Because of Catherine Cicoria's disappearance, Judge Robert C. Nalley twice delayed the start of the couple's Circuit Court trial, originally set for Oct. 1. Nalley barely acknowledged her absence yesterday as jury selection began. Taking the bench shortly after 2 p.m., he faced her attorney, Joseph Touhey, and said, "Mr. Touhey, we can excuse you at this point."

Touhey, of Glen Burnie, represents only Catherine Cicoria. Anthony Cicoria is represented by Robert Mance, of Washington.

Anthony Cicoria, 50, a second-term Democrat from Hyattsville, is charged with felony theft, income tax evasion and conspiracy in the alleged misappropriation of $64,324 in campaign funds. His wife, who served as his campaign chairman, faces the same charges, along with seven counts of perjury, for allegedly signing fraudulent campaign finance reports.

Nalley and the attorneys began asking preliminary questions of 150 prospective jurors yesterday. The selection process is scheduled to be completed today. The trial is expected to last three weeks.

Catherine Cicoria, 52, was last seen by her husband Sept. 29 in Florida, where they were tending to business affairs before the start of their trial, according to Anthony Cicoria.

On Oct. 2, the day after the trial was to have begun, Touhey received a handwritten letter from his client. In it, Catherine Cicoria said she was distraught about the trial and publicity surrounding it and needed time to settle herself emotionally before surrendering, according to her husband. Prince George's sheriff's deputies and the FBI are continuing to search for her.

Anthony Cicoria, who faces token opposition in his November reelection bid, said his wife's anxiety has been made worse by the medical condition of her mother, who has cancer and a heart condition.

Touhey said yesterday that Catherine Circoria telephoned him at home Friday night, but did not say where she was calling from.

The conversation "lasted a matter of minutes," Touhey said, adding that his client gave no indication of her plans.

He declined to discuss details of their conversation, citing attorney-client confidentiality. However, Touhey said, he did warn her that Nalley's patience appeared to be wearing thin and that he was likely to start the trial yesterday without her.Had she appeared in court with her husband yesterday, Touhey said, Nalley might have allowed her to be freed on bond pending the outcome of the trial. Facing a separate trial, she probably would be ordered held without bond, the attorney said.