A federal judge yesterday told the District to pay attorney's fees and damages to a former corrections officer at the Lorton prison complex in his job discrimination lawsuit, citing city lawyers' failure to meet filing deadlines and their "rambling, incoherent" motions.

The order by U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth is one of several recent instances in which lawyers for the D.C. Corporation Counsel's Office have incurred a judge's anger because they have come to court unprepared.

Claude Bailey, a spokesman for the office, called yesterday's ruling "a serious situation," and said it was partly a reflection of the office's chronic shortage of money and lawyers. As of last January, about one-fifth of the office's 240 positions, including attorney positions, were vacant because of a hiring freeze imposed by the city's budget crisis.

The assistant corporation counsel assigned to the case, Harry Toussaint Alexander, could not be reached for comment. Bailey said he was "a hard-working attorney."

Yesterday's order is believed to be the first instance in which a judge's order citing the corporation counsel's failure to meet deadlines could actually cost the taxpayers money. A Nov. 21 hearing is scheduled to assess how much the plaintiff, James S. Monroe, should be paid, Lamberth's order said.

Attorney Richard Gordin, who represented Monroe, said yesterday his firm would argue that Monroe is entitled to all the wages he would have received since 1983, when he lost his Lorton job. He also criticized the city's response to his client's lawsuit, filed three years ago. "The D.C. government really came forth with not only inadequate responses to discovery, {but} some of it was just gibberish," Gordin said.

Lamberth's order echoed that opinion, saying that "it is impossible to know how much {Monroe's} case may have suffered because of {the District's} obstructive tactics."

A year ago, Lamberth had fined the District $300 for failing to meet another deadline -- but then the District failed to meet the deadline for paying the fine. Gordin said yesterday that the $300 was finally paid this year, "many, many months late."

Monroe's case is one of four cases pending in federal court in which corporation counsel lawyers have gotten into trouble with judges for missing deadlines. Similar chronic problems have been noted by judges in D.C. Superior Court.

"I don't know when I've seen more blatant disregard of court orders," U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan told Assistant Corporation Counsel Kenneth Marty in a hearing last month, according to a court transcript. In that case, Hogan was speaking not just of the District's failure to meet filing deadlines, but also its failure to bring a representative of the D.C. Department of Corrections to court, as the judge had ordered.

That case concerned a class-action lawsuit over prison conditions filed this year by several hundred D.C. prisoners housed in county jails across the country, mostly in Texas.

In another case pending before Hogan, a civil lawsuit concerning the District's child welfare system, the District is failing to meet its deadlines.

And last month, a federal jury awarded $751,000 in damages to eight Lorton inmates who asserted that they had been beaten by guards there in 1986. That case was also assigned to Lamberth, and the District was represented again by Alexander.

After Alexander repeatedly failed to meet filing deadlines in that case, Lamberth issued an order in February barring the District from contesting some of the inmates' medical evidence.

It was not clear what role Lamberth's earlier order played in the jury's decision to award the inmates the money, most of which came in the form of punitive damages.