In a recent article about driver's license restoration appeal hearings, I mentioned that I never call witnesses. It has been a while since I've addressed that topic, and my experience at a hearing the day before writing this article has convinced me that it's time to revisit this subject. Let's start with the conclusion first, and then we'll get into the analysis: It is a mistake to call a witness at a DAAD (Michigan Secretary of State Driver Assessment and Appeal Division) license reinstatement hearing. And to be clearer still, when I say it "is" a mistake, I'm still waiting for an exception that I have never yet seen in my 24-plus years as a lawyer. In my mind, calling a witness is an amateur blunder of the highest order.
Yesterday, I represented someone who had a different lawyer at a previous hearing. That lawyer had called a witness, things went bad, and the appeal was denied. My client not only agreed with my assessment that witnesses are nothing but a liability, but also got a bit angry with the previous lawyer for not knowing that. When someone who has lost a prior license restoration case with a different lawyer comes to hire me for his or her next time around and I begin to read the order denying the previous case, I cannot help but cringe when I see someone's name listed as a witness. I've never seen a witness listed on a winning decision, but I've seen plenty of them on denial letters.
In the most recent hearing article, I noted that while we all hope to learn from experience, there are some people who just do what they always do and don't really pay attention to the subtle nuances, and therefore don't learn anything. When I'm at the DAAD office and some lawyer steps out of a hearing and comes into the waiting room to fetch a witness, I just have to shake my head. The real point in the earlier article was that there are some things I do in my various cases that are almost a matter of instinct, and therefore somewhat difficult to explain, and there are others that involve my own proprietary (i.e. "secret") methods. The reason calling witnesses is a bad idea is neither; instead, it's so obvious that you've got to wonder about any lawyer who misses it.
Anything good that a witness can say in person, meaning anything that he or she can relate through testimony, can also be said just as clearly in a letter of support. Letters of support are worth exactly what they say. Unlike a live witness, the hearing officer cannot intimidate a letter of support. You cannot cross-examine or question a letter of support. A letter of support never gets nervous and says the "wrong" thing, nor does it get confused or forget details. This means that unlike witnesses, letters of support cannot screw things up, at least if the lawyer presenting it knows what he or she is doing, and I know well enough to guarantee I'll win your license appeal if you're really sober and I take your case.