ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) _ Some of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's witnesses in a case involving presidential accuser Kathleen Willey ran into problems when they took lie detector tests, a defense lawyer said Friday in federal court.

Without naming the witnesses, Eric Dubelier made the assertion in court as he argued unsuccessfully that Starr improperly assembled an obstruction indictment against Julie Hiatt Steele, who undercut Mrs. Willey's story that President Clinton made an unwelcome sexual advance in the White House.

``There is a substantial polygraph issue with regard to their own witnesses,'' said Dubelier, who did not say how many of Starr's witnesses had polygraph problems. At another point, he said that ``results of polygraph examinations'' are ``an issue for some of their own witnesses.''

Starr has given Mrs. Steele evidence in preparation for her March 30 trial, but at Starr's request, U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton has ordered the information kept secret for now.

In arguing for secrecy, Starr said he is still investigating allegations of perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with the Willey matter.

Clinton has testified that Mrs. Willey's story was untrue.

Hilton denied a series of defense motions to dismiss the case or suppress Mrs. Steele's grand jury testimony. In the face of a defense motion, Starr deleted from the indictment the allegation that Mrs. Steele tried to obstruct Starr's grand jury investigation by making false statements on CNN's ``Larry King Live.''

Dubelier made the comments about polygraph testing after referring to discussions between Starr's office and Mrs. Steele last year about Mrs. Steele taking a lie detector test. A written FBI interview summary says Mrs. Steele initially agreed a year ago to take a polygraph. She later refused on the advice of her attorney.

Polygraph test results are not ordinarily admissible in court, but Mrs. Steele's lawyers could argue they are entitled to use the results to call into question the credibility of any Starr witness who testifies against her.

``Courts are loosening up the standards for using polygraph evidence at trial,'' said former federal prosecutor Bruce Yannett. ``Where you have a government witness who took a government polygraph and failed, it is certainly relevant information for the jury to have in order to assess that individual's credibility.''

Law enforcement agencies use the tests to determine whether a person is being deceptive or not. In some cases, the test is inconclusive.

Appearing before the judge, Dubelier, a former prosecutor on Starr's staff, said Mrs. Steele's lawyers are serving ``pro bono,'' free of charge, adding that her legal team is ``not part of some vast White House conspiracy to interfere with'' Starr's investigation of Clinton.

A prosecutor for 17 years, Dubelier recently left the U.S. attorney's office in Washington to join a law firm. He worked for Starr's office in 1996, investigating the White House's use of FBI files.

Mrs. Willey has alleged that Clinton made an unwanted sexual advance toward her in the White House in 1993.

Mrs. Steele says she never heard Mrs. Willey's accusation before 1997, and that she was acting on Mrs. Willey's instructions when she told Newsweek that year that Mrs. Willey had talked to her about the alleged Clinton advance immediately after it occurred.

She later signed an affidavit saying Mrs. Willey asked her to lie to the Newsweek reporter. Mrs. Steele expanded on that information in an FBI interview last March and in grand jury testimony.

Prosecutors contend Mrs. Willey did tell Mrs. Steele about the alleged incident in 1993 and that Mrs. Steele lied to the grand jury about it.