ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) _ The state's top court Thursday reinstated a libel lawsuit filed by New York City's former medical examiner against The New York Times over articles alleging questionable practices in his office.

The 5-0 ruling by the Court of Appeals sends Dr. Elliot Gross' lawsuit back to state Supreme Court in New York City for trial.

The newspaper argued it merely reported expressions of opinion about Gross and was therefore protected against the $50 million libel lawsuit. The lower court had dismissed the 1986 lawsuit and an appellate court had upheld the dismissal.

But the high court found that the charges contained in the series of articles published in 1985 and 1986 ''would be understood by the reasonable reader as assertions of fact.''

The articles accused Gross of having mishandled several high profile cases and having used his authority to protect police officers after people died in their custody.

Gross denied the charges and four separate criminal investigations found no evidence of professional misconduct or criminal wrongdoing. Gross was fired in 1987 by then-New York City Mayor Edward Koch.

''We are confident the articles are accurate and fair and we will defend them,'' said Floyd Abrams, a lawyer for the newspaper.

''Nothing the court said today bears on the truth of the articles and we intend to defend vigorously the articles as published.''

Gross, who now works in the Hamilton County coroner's office in Cincinnati, said he was pleased by the ruling.