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Cook County to settle deputies’ suit vs. Sheriff Tom Dart for $2.4M

Friday, February 14, 2014
Chicago Sun-Times

The Cook County Board is expected to settle a federal lawsuit brought by 21 deputies who allege Sheriff Tom Dart retaliated against them because they backed his political opponent when he was running for sheriff in 2006.

The deputies, who will split the $2.4 million settlement after the board votes on the matter next Wednesday, were members of an elite-but-troubled unit that specialized in quelling inmate disturbances. But they also drew headlines for rough treatment of inmates, said Dart spokeswoman Cara Smith, who described the settlement as “outrageous.”

One member was later convicted of helping five inmates, including a convicted killer, escape from Cook County jail in 2006, according to sheriff’s department officials.

The unit was disbanded shortly after Dart — who was then chief of staff to Sheriff Michael Sheahan — was elected. The deputies alleged it was disbanded because they supported Dart’s rival, Richard Reemus.

In 2008, they filed the suit claiming they were denied overtime, unfairly punished and withheld promotions, according to their attorney Dana Kurtz and the court filing.

A jury sided against Dart, who was represented by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office. And while Dart’s office said he wanted to appeal the ruling, the county took the case to mediation. A retired federal judge ruled that the deputies were owed $2.4 million, said Peter Silevstri, R- Elmwood Park, who chairs the county’s Finance Subcommittee on Litigation.

“It was a financial decision, based on the cost of litigating the mater and the unpredictability of the case,” said Silvestri, who characterized the deputies’ claim of political retribution as “questionable.”

Dart’s office pushed back Thursday night against the pending decision to settle, arguing that there were problems with the way the case was argued in court.

“This is a gross example of no good deed goes unpunished,” said Smith, Dart’s spokeswoman. “This team was disbanded because it was the right thing to do for the management of this jail . . . Because of the way the case was handled, we are stuck with this settlement that the sheriff strenuously objected to.”

But Kurtz, the deputies’ attorney, said it was the sheriff’s office’s conduct that was “outrageous.”

“What’s outrageous is the fact that the sheriff allows for political retaliation to occur,” Kurtz said. “The jury found political retaliation occurred and the sheriff hasn’t done anything to change it.”

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