International Law

Renowned criminal lawyer found dead in apparent suicide

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One of Europe’s most powerful and successful lawyers has been found dead in what is being reported an apparent suicide, on the shoreline of the private island he purchased in the Brittany region of France, along with a home, for 10 million Euros several years ago.

Olivier Metzner, 63, was the son of Normandy dairy farmers and began his legal career defending petty thieves. He went on to represent high-profile clients including former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin, rogue trader Jérôme Kerviel, and ex-Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, as well as Continental Airlines, concerning a catastrophic Concorde crash in 2000, according to the Guardian, London Times (sub. req.) and the Voice of America.

The BBC News says French police are treating Metzner’s death as a suicide, although no official cause of death has been determined. Bloomberg, which also has a story, says autopsy results are expected soon.

Metzner once said he decided to be a lawyer after reading both Franz Kafka’s works and a local newspaper story about a shepherd sentenced to death, the Guardian reports.

“He was from the mountains and incapable of explaining his defense in any understandable language,” explained Metzner. “It made me want to be an interpreter for those who had difficult expressing themselves in front of the court and at the same time explain the justice system to them, because the incomprehension goes both ways.”

What could have brought such a renowned lawyer to take his own life, if that is determined by authorities to be what happened, isn’t clear. A note was found at Metzner’s home, but news accounts are not now reporting in detail what it said.

The lawyer was celebrated, the man unknown, said Le Monde in a French-language account of Metzner’s death.

Unmarried, Metzner reportedly enjoyed the opera, fine wine and the sea. But he kept his thoughts to himself concerning his personal life.

He was known professionally both for his trademark cigar and his intellectual command of the most complex cases, which made him a go-to lawyer for multinational corporations, the BBC notes.

The French newspaper says Metzner boarded the boat he kept at his home on Boëdic Island and jumped from it into the water on Saturday or Sunday. His housekeeper found a letter at his home in which he discusses his last wishes.

To the extent that the private Metzner struggled with issues not apparent to those who saw only his highly successful public persona, he was far from the only lawyer to do so. An earlier post discusses resources available to those concerned that a colleague or friend may be contemplating suicide.

Additional coverage:

Le Parisien: “Le grand avocat Olivier Metzner retrouvé mort en Bretagne”

Telegraph: “Manuel Noriega questions ‘suicide’ of French lawyer Olivier Metzner”

Updated at 1:57 p.m. to include Bloomberg coverage.

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