Mad Dog Takes His Last Bite

By Larry Clinton

Hard-hitting lawyer Michael Metzger, a fixture at Kappas Marina in the 80s and early 90s, shot himself to death in 1994 after firing a round of birdshot at his wife. He was 57 and lived in St. Helena but practiced law out a floating home on East Pier, where neighbors – including myself -- were warily intrigued by the infamous criminal attorney who called himself Mad Dog.

The silver-haired Metzger had been as famous for his practical jokes and putdowns of adversaries as he was for his legal brilliance. "He...practices law with all the subtlety and restraint of a wounded Cape buffalo," noted writer Michael Checchio in a 1992 article for California Lawyer magazine.

East Pier neighbors were struck by the parade of unusual-looking clients – even by houseboat standards – who visited Metzger’s office at the beginning of the pier.  Many were high-profile drug traffickers or users, including members of the Grateful Dead, according to an obituary in the Miami New Times. There were even rumors of large, suspicious bales being delivered to his office by boat.

We were also impressed by the military-grade Humvee which Metzger parked in our lot, years before Governor Schwarzenegger popularized the gas-guzzling behemoths as conspicuous status symbols.

Splitting time between his floating home and his wine country residence, Metzger didn’t mingle much on the dock, but he did occasionally show a neighborly side, such as the time he voluntarily interceded on behalf of a pregnant woman who feared she was facing foreclosure.  Later, he married a woman from the dock, who was recalled as a gentle, perhaps fragile, young lady.

The ex-prosecutor had been one of the area’s most aggressive and outspoken defense lawyers for over 30 years.  He also struggled with his own drug abuse and alcoholism. Two years before his death, he was suspended from practicing in local federal courts for “threatening and insulting prosecutors and lying to the court,” according to an Associated Press report, which continued that it was found Metzger had “violated professional standards by challenging two prosecutors to fight, asking a third what her ‘species’ was, berating court staff and falsely denying some of his actions…”

Metzger had been drinking on the night he died, according to the Miami New Times: “Earlier that evening local police had confiscated an Uzi from the trunk of his car and a handgun he had been brandishing in a pizza restaurant (Metzger had a permit to carry concealed weapons and owned dozens of guns, according to the Napa County Sheriff's Department). Before turning his weapon on himself, Metzger wounded his wife Kyle with a round of birdshot, possibly accidentally. She was not seriously injured.”

The article continued: “Metzger also was under investigation by U.S. Customs in connection with a large West Coast hashish smuggling operation. Customs officials decline to comment about Metzger's alleged involvement. But friends tend to agree that it probably wasn't professional troubles that prompted Metzger to take his life; most place the blame on problems related to substance abuse.”

The Miami New Times obituary was entitled: “Mad Dog Bites No More.”