Sidley Austin offices in Washington, D.C.
Sidley Austin offices in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)

A jury won’t decide a recent lawsuit claiming a Sidley Austin partner conspired with a now-imprisoned con man to fraudulently dupe a millionaire divorcee into a more than $6 million investment.

A filing made available in Chicago’s Cook County Circuit Court this week shows the parties agreed to dismiss the case. The agreed order says the claims are subject to arbitration.

In the suit, plaintiff Carrie Birkel claimed Washington, D.C.-based Sidley partner Edward McNicholas lured her into a bogus investment after she won $10 million in a divorce. Birkel sought damages in excess of $1.5 million.

She alleged McNicholas told her he was leaving Sidley to become general counsel of a defense contractor named ToyBox that was, according to the alleged scheme, poised to hit it big from an incoming government contract. The contract never materialized, the suit says, and McNicholas remains a Sidley partner.

The order dismissing the suit, signed by Judge John P. Callahan Jr., followed a motion filed by Sidley and McNicholas to compel arbitration. They said the allegations in the suit were “utterly without merit.”

Birkel’s lawyer, Edward Clinton of The Clinton Law Firm in Chicago, said his client had consented to arbitrate her claims.

“There were arguments that could have been made to fight the arbitration but ultimately we decided not to,” Clinton said.

The dismissal likely means the case will not shed light on the alleged relationship between McNicholas, a co-leader of Sidley’s privacy, data security and information law practice, and Joseph Garcia, whom court documents describe as an experienced con artist sentenced to 37 months in prison last year after pleading guilty to a wire fraud charge.

Sidley declined to comment on pending litigation. Clinton did not return a phone call.

The suit says Garcia introduced Birkel to McNicholas, whom she paid a $25,000 retainer to vet divorce attorneys. One of Garcia’s companies, Strategic Intelligence Services, is listed on the engagement letter signed by McNicholas and Birkel as a party to their work.

The pair began to describe the ToyBox investment to Birkel after her divorce resulted in a $10 million settlement, the suit says.

According to the complaint, Garcia used a business card with Sidley’s logo that listed him under one of his aliases, “Joseph Dean,” with his title as “special projects.” Garcia’s former accountant testified in his earlier criminal case that Garcia was “hired” by Sidley to counsel one of the firm’s clients for three months. During that time, Garcia had “24-7″ access to Sidley’s Washington offices, according to the testimony.

Documents from the criminal case against Garcia show he owed more than 20 individuals $635,000 in restitution from a separate fraudulent investment scheme. He spent the money to fund a lavish lifestyle, including purchasing Porsches and renting fancy homes in exclusive neighborhoods such as Washington, D.C.’s Embassy Row.

Garcia, 50, is scheduled to be released from prison in October, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Contact Roy Strom at On Twitter: @RoyWStrom.