A new hearing has been ordered by Maryland's highest court in a $15 million lawsuit that accuses former governor Marvin Mandel and seven others of fraud in the 1971 purchase of the now-defunct Marlboro Race Course.

The Court of Appeals issued a unanimous ruling Monday overturning a lower court decision that said the lawsuit was filed after a three-year statute of limitations on such suits had expired.

The high court ruled that the question of whether the lawsuit had been filed in a timely manner should have been decided by a jury, not a judge. The court ordered the case back to the Baltimore Circuit Court for a new hearing.

The 1978 lawsuit, brought by brothers James F. O'Hara III and Michael O'Hara, alleged that Mandel and his associates conspired to depress the value of the race track in Upper Marlboro before secretly acquiring it in 1971. Other defendants in the suit are W. Dale Hess, Harry W. Rodgers III, William A. Rodgers, Irving T. Schwartz, Eugene B. Casey, Irvin Kovens and Ernest N. Cory Jr.

In 1977, Mandel and five associates were convicted of federal mail fraud and racketeering charges stemming from tract activities.