05/14/2002 12:00AM

Suspended exec Maline reinstated by horsemen

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The Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association voted Monday night to reinstate its suspended executive director, Marty Maline, over the objections of its president, Alex Harthill, at a board meeting in Louisville on Monday night.

The vote was 6-4, according to board members.

Maline, who said he has been involved with the HBPA for 26 years, was suspended by Harthill two weeks ago after the National HBPA began an investigation into possible conflicts of interest over consulting fees involving Maline, former Kentucky HBPA president Rick Hiles, and former general counsel Don Sturgill. The Kentucky HBPA has started its own investigation into the matter.

Bob Holthus, a member of the Kentucky horsemen's board, said the decision to reinstate Maline was based on a preliminary report prepared by Joel Cohen, a lawyer who was recently hired as general counsel after Sturgill resigned a month ago.

"Marty's back in office as of this morning," Holthus said on Tuesday. "The board felt that he can be back in his official position until the evidence says that he shouldn't."

Maline said he was relieved to be back at work but declined to comment on the investigation or what happened at the board meeting, which he said he attended.

Harthill, a longtime Kentucky veterinarian, sharply criticized the circumstances of the reinstatement and said he wasn't present for the vote. Other board members, including Ray Cottrell, said Harthill was present.

"I didn't reinstate him," Harthill said of Maline. "They may have after I left. I'm a busy man."

Harthill, 77, defended the suspension of Maline, likening the current investigation to a number of past controversies involving the horsemen's group.

Asked if he would consider resigning, given the board's action, Harthill declined to answer.

Before the board meeting on Monday, several members said that they expected Harthill's status as president to be the subject of a vote, but no such vote was called at the meeting. One board member said the vote was dropped because members who were seeking Harthill's dismissal did not believe they had the eight votes that would be necessary to remove him.

Cottrell, a horse owner who described himself as a Harthill supporter, said on Tuesday that "as the meeting went on, it didn't come to a vote because the people that were thinking about doing that changed their minds when they were satisfied that the HBPA was in good hands."

In other action, the board passed a rule that will require most expenditures by the Kentucky HBPA to be approved by the board. Several board members had complained before the meeting about questionable travel and operational expenses uncovered in an informal audit.

"That will clear up 90 percent of the problems that did exist and 90 percent of the rumors that people thought existed but didn't," Cottrell said. "The HBPA is under control."