For the second time in about two weeks, the District government has lost a lawsuit in federal court here because its lawyers missed filing deadlines.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth issued a ruling last week awarding judgment by default to an inmate in a federal prison in Kentucky who sued the District in April, charging that he was denied medical treatment for a back injury. Lamberth said he did so because lawyers in the D.C. Corporation Counsel's Office failed to file any response on behalf of four individual defendants, and filed a late response on the government's behalf.

"The District's failure to . . . respond in litigation not only frustrates plaintiffs, but it places an intolerable burden on the court," Lamberth's order said. "The District of Columbia and its officials must be held accountable for their conduct."

Lamberth said that he was not persuaded by arguments from the assistant corporation counsel in the case, Kenneth Marty, that he was overwhelmed by his caseload and working without enough secretarial help. The judge said the argument "does not address why {Marty} believes it is totally within his discretion to simply ignore any filing deadline." The judge set a Nov. 21 hearing date to set damages in the case.

Yesterday, Claude Bailey, corporation counsel spokesman, defended Marty's handling of the suit, saying it was another result of budget cuts that have prompted a mass exodus of assistants in the office.

"This is just another example of our people being overworked," Bailey said. "Obviously, it's serious when you miss a deadline, but when people are overworked, it's going to happen."

On Oct. 19, Lamberth ordered the District to pay damages to a former corrections officer at the Lorton Correctional Complex in Fairfax County who had filed a job discrimination lawsuit. The judge cited missed deadlines and "rambling, incoherent" motions filed by the city. The District is appealing that order.

Earlier this year, Lamberth barred the District from contesting crucial medical evidence in another lawsuit -- this one containing allegations by eight Lorton inmates that they were beaten by corrections officers in 1986. The Corporation Counsel's office had repeatedly missed filing deadlines in that case as well. A jury later returned a verdict of $751,000 in damages for the inmates, though it was unclear what role if any Lamberth's order played in their decision.

At least one other federal judge, Thomas Hogan, has recently cited the city lawyers for disregarding court orders and missing deadlines, and judges in D.C. Superior Court have noted similar problems.

In the city's appeal of Lamberth's ruling in the job discrimination case, filed last Friday, Assistant Corporation Counsel Richard Love for the first time submitted evidence that the plaintiff, James S. Monroe Sr., was fired for poor performance and failing a written job exam. It is information that could have helped the city's position in the lawsuit.

Included in court papers filed in the case last Friday was a photocopy of a 1984 letter to Monroe from the D.C. Office of Human Rights, saying he did not have a credible case.

Bailey said the Corporation Counsel's Office has borne a disproportionate share of citywide budget cuts for a simple reason: It is one government agency that lacks a constituency, and therefore lacks clout, even though the office's acting head, Herbert O. Reid Sr., is a close friend of Mayor Marion Barry's.

"We service the government," said Bailey. "If the Department of Human Services budget gets cut, the people they serve get up in arms. When we get cut, we have nobody to lobby for us."

Records filed in connection with the Monroe appeal show that five lawyers in the corrections litigation section handle the 890 prisoner lawsuits filed against the District in the past two years.

Overall, the papers said, roughly 25 percent of the attorney positions in the office are unfilled because of a "snowballing exodus" of lawyers in recent months. The lawyers who left were unhappy that budget cuts left them without money for such things as secretaries and expert witnesses, the papers said.

Bailey said that help may be on the way: The office recently got permission to hire new lawyers, including three in the correctional litigation section. Meanwhile, he said, the city will appeal Lamberth's latest order.