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Trial Underway For Deputies Who Say They Were Punished For Backing Dart’s Opponent

Dart Lawsuit

Cook County Sheriff’s employees are suing Sheriff Tom Dart, saying they were punished for political reasons. (Credit: Regine Schlesinger/WBBM Newsradio/CBS)

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UPDATED 08/07/12 7:20 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — A trial is underway at the Federal Building in a lawsuit against Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

The plaintiffs – 21 employees of the sheriff’s office – allege they were punished professionally for political reasons – that all supported Sheriff Dart’s election opponent, Richard Remus in the 2006 sheriff’s race.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports

Their attorney, Dana Kurtz, says they were targeted in many ways, including “denials of promotions, discipline, being put back in the jail, being denied opportunity for advancement, having their lives destroyed.”

In response to the lawsuit, Sheriff’s office spokesman Frank Bilecki said the case started six years ago during a previous administration.

“Not one of the individuals suing the County was fired and some were promoted. It is beyond perplexing that these individuals are suing for more money when they already have had every opportunity for promotion.” Bilecki said in a statement. “Sheriff Dart and his Office proudly stand on their record.”

Bilecki added that the Sheriff’s office is “very proud of the fact that it is the only local government office that has been declared in compliance by the Federal Courts and therefore is no longer monitored by the courts or their appointed monitors.”

CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley reported on a separate case involving similar allegations late last month. He spoke with longtime Sheriff’s Lt. Doug Zimny, a 23-year veteran of the Sheriff’s department who claimed he had been the target of a campaign of sustained harassment, all because he supported Remus.

Zimny said veteran political operative James “Skinny” Sheahan – a 19th Ward ally of Dart, and brother of former Cook County Sheriff Michael Sheahan – warned him there would be consequences for failing to support Dart’s bid to replace Mike Sheahan when the former sheriff stepped down in 2006.

“Skinny had came back to me and told me … ‘Well, they’re telling me that you’re not a team player?’ What kind of team player do i have to be besides doing my job?” Zimny said late last month\\Zimny alleged, after that, he was denied a promotion, and his work hours repeatedly changed.

He filed a complaint against Dart, charging political retaliation in violation of the federal Shakman Decree prohibiting political considerations in the hiring and promotion for most government jobs at the city and county level. He said he won a financial settlement in that case, but the harassment didn’t stop.

Kurtz said the directed at Zimy included “denial of promotion to commander, false investigations, [and] disciplinary actions being reinitiated when they had been previously dismissed.”

Zimny is currently on leave, but the sheriff’s office is trying to fire him for allegedly committing fraud during a Texas fishing tournament, and for allegedly trying to intervene in his wife’s shoplifting case.