The Army said yesterday that it demoted a retired general who admitted having sex with the wives of four subordinates and was court-martialed in March. The highly unusual additional punishment will cost the officer about $750 a month in retirement pay, Army lawyers said.

The decision was made by Army Secretary Louis Caldera, acting on the advice of a panel of three active-duty generals.

Caldera reduced David Hale's rank from two-star major general to one-star brigadier general. It was not immediately known whether Hale would appeal the decision to the Army Board for Correction of Military Records.

As a major general, Hale has been receiving about $6,250 a month in retirement pay. Caldera said the reduction in rank, and loss of retirement pay, is retroactive to Hale's retirement date of March 1, 1998.

Army lawyers said it was up to the Defense Department's Finance and Accounting Service to decide whether to seek reimbursement from Hale for a portion of the retirement pay he has collected since March 1998.

Hale was reprimanded and fined after the court-martial in March this year, but he escaped a possible 11-year term in a military prison.

In July, Caldera announced he was convening a special panel to review Hale's case and determine at what rank Hale last served satisfactorily.

Hale was the highest-ranking Army officer to face a court-martial since 1952. His case led to allegations that the Pentagon had a double standard for dealing with sexual misconduct when it came to officers.

He was allowed to retire with honor last year despite allegations of improprieties he committed while he was a top NATO commander in southern Europe. The resulting furor led the Pentagon to change its rules to bar top officers from retiring while facing allegations of wrongdoing.

The Army also decided to take the highly unusual step of court-martialing Hale even though he was retired.

Hale was convicted of seven counts of conduct unbecoming an officer and one count of lying to investigators. He was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and forfeit $12,000 of his $75,744 annual pension for one year.

CAPTION: David Hale will lose about $750 a month.