In Part 1 of this series, we observed that a person must be eligible, both in terms of timing and Sobriety, to file a Michigan Driver's License Restoration or Clearance Appeal. In Part 2, we looked at the Substance Abuse Evaluation that must be filed in order to begin a License Appeal, and in Part 3, we examined the importance of the Letters of Support that must be included along with the Evaluation. In this 4th installment, we'll look at the final preparations of the case in terms of how my Staff and I review and finalize the necessary documents that are filed with the Michigan Secretary of State's Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD) to request a Hearing. In the next installment (Part 5), we'll review how I prepare my Client for their actual Hearing.
When talking about the License Appeal process, I'm often asked something like "How long does it take?" Depending on how we define and focus that question, the answer varies. If a person is motivated and ready to get their License back, or obtain an out-of-state Clearance, we can squeeze the time from they meet me until the day they sit in front of a Hearing Officer down to 10 weeks. As it stands, once the paperwork is filed with the Driver Assessment and Appeal Division, it takes about 6 weeks to be notified of a Hearing date, and that date is usually about 2 weeks thereafter, meaning it takes about 8 weeks from the time of filing to the time of Hearing.
Most people, however, don't go so fast. Ironically, almost everyone says they will ("I want to get this done as soon as possible..."), but the reality is that most people take a few months from the time they first see me and have their Evaluation completed until everything is ready to file. However long it takes, there is a lot of work that I do in reviewing the Substance Abuse Evaluation and the editing and revising the Letters of Support as they come in. Sooner or later, however, there does come a point when everything is in, and the documents need to be filed.
This is the time for one last review - a final inspection of sorts. Now, the Substance Abuse Evaluation and the Letters of Support need to be read in conjunction with each other as well as the Substance Abuse Evaluation checklist form we will have completed at the time of my first, 3-hour meeting with the Client.
This is the point where I have to make sure that everything "fits," and there are no inconsistencies amongst the information presented in the documents. Beyond that, it can be misleading, or kind of misses the point to simply say that there has to be consistency within the information provided, particularly with respect to dates. In fact, sometimes, rather than speaking about "consistency," it is more appropriate to speak of there not being any inconsistencies. This really applies when someone gets a Letter of Support from a close family member who knew the person when they were drinking and watched as they quit drinking,and transitioned from drinker to non-drinker, as compared to a letter from a newer friend (or co-worker or neighbor or the like) who did not know the person back when they were drinking, and has only known them for a short time, and as a non-drinker.
The "double-checking" process isn't really much different than when an airplane Pilot and Co-Pilot sit in the cockpit and do a final inspection of the plane's systems before taking off. Undoubtedly, the plane has already been serviced and cleared by the mechanics, but redundancy is still the best way to make sure nothing has been missed, and the value of such redundant checks is highlighted every time some small thing that was somehow overlooked is discovered at the last minute.
While it would be impossible to provide even a sampling of the kinds of things I look for (and sometimes find), it is not uncommon, for example, in those cases that require a Doctor's letter, to find that the letter isn't quite good enough, or detailed enough to make the point I need it to make. In recent years, to obviate this problem, I have taken to making a very specific, detailed request from any Doctor from whom I need a letter. Even so, Doctors are busy, and can overlook the fact that the kind of letter than might be "good enough" between one Physician to another is far from "good enough" for the Hearing Officer deciding a License Appeal. This is where I have to step in and make sure that any required additional information is indeed "good enough" for the state.
While such discoveries are usually made as the information comes in, there is something to be said for just sitting down with a file, once all the documentation has been assembled, and reading it all at once, and as a whole. After all, this is precisely how the Hearing Officer will be seeing the file; all at once. And the point of this final inspection is not limited to just finding errors, either. Beyond just being consistent, or not being "not inconsistent," the file, meaning the Substance Abuse Evaluation and the Letters of Support and any additional documentation submitted along therewith, must present a coherent story. I call this a person's "Recovery Story." It needs to be a clear, if not summary tale of how a person went from being a drinker, to having that "a-ha" or "light bulb" moment, to making the decision to eliminate alcohol from their life, to learning how to do that and live a "sober lifestyle."
This kind of dramatic turnaround in a person's life is a big deal. It needs to come through, at least in abbreviated form, in the paperwork that's filed with the DAAD. I have to make sure it does because, once it's filed, it's gone, and it's too late to make any changes. Whatever is in that paperwork is in there, and whatever isn't is not, and, as the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Once I feel my Client's Recovery story is adequately presented in the documentation we'll be filing, we send it off. In other articles, I have pointed out that I will never do a "Video Hearing," always opting instead to conduct it live, and in-person. In addition, I have all of my Hearings scheduled at the Livonia branch of the DAAD. As I noted at the outset of this installment, it takes about 6 weeks to be notified of a Hearing date. In Part 5, we'll overview the significance of preparing for the upcoming Hearing and the specific Hearing Officer to whom the case has been assigned, and how I schedule each critically important "prep session."