CHICAGO (CBS) — Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart plans to appeal a $1.6 million award against his office by a federal jury, on behalf of 21 sheriff’s employees who claimed they were demoted for supporting an opponent in the 2006 election.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court contended the members of the jail’s now-disbanded Special Operations Response Team supported Richard Remus in his losing campaign against Dart.

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The group claimed Dart retaliated against them by getting rid of their unit and creating the Emergency Response Team, whose members were less qualified to perform the same work.

The Special Operations Response Team was implicated in the alleged mass beating of inmates in the jail in 1999.

Dart said Tuesday there is no evidence he politically retaliated against the plaintiffs.

“This was simply good, smart government,” the sheriff’s office said in a prepared statement.

The sheriff’s office said, in its statement announcing its intention to appeal, that it continues to stand on its record and decisions in the case.

“There is not one shred of evidence that supports the claim, not one of these plaintiffs has been fired and all continue to work for the Cook County Department of Corrections,” the statement read.

Dart spokesman Frank Bilecki said all 21 could have applied for the Emergency Response Unit. He said six did so and were hired into the unit, nine did not qualify and the rest did not apply.

“This case has never been about retaliation for violating someone’s rights; this decision has always been about holding employees accountable for their actions and doing what is right,” the statement read.

SORT was under a cloud for an alleged mass beating of inmates in the jail in 1999. And in 2010, Dart announced that an investigation found seven jail guards who supported Remus were behind a plot to allow six inmates to escape in 2006 to embarrass then-Sheriff Mike Sheahan and Dart, who was Sheahan’s chief of staff and was running to succeed his boss.

One guard was criminally charged in the case and six others were suspended. Remus, a former head of SORT, has denied any involvement in a jailbreak plot.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2012. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)