In part 1 of this article, we began examining the overall process of Driver’s License Restoration, beginning with determining if a person is both “legally” and “really” eligible. We then examined what can rather accurately be described as very foundation of a License Appeal, the Substance Abuse Evaluation.
We’ll pick up with the other component that must be completed and submitted along with the Request for Hearing and the Substance Abuse Evaluation, the Letters of Support.
If the Evaluation is the foundation of a License Appeal, then the Letters of Support are its walls. In my Office, I provide sample copies of Letters to my Clients so that they can get an idea of what the Letters are supposed to say, and, as important, what they shouldn’t get into. Quite frankly, this isn’t nearly as much work as it sounds, because I pretty much tell the Client to get something, anything, down on paper, and send it to me so that I can edit it. Normally, instead of bothering 3 to 6 people to actually write a first draft of a letter, only to have me red-pen all kinds of changes to it so that they can thereafter re-do it, I have the Client write the first draft so that once it has been edited properly, it can be presented to the person who will be signing it and they simply type it up, sign it, and give it back.
After the Letters have been finalized and the Evaluation double-checked and cleared, everything is filed in Lansing. It takes about 4 weeks to get Notice of the Hearing date. The actual Hearing itself occurs abut 2 weeks after that, meaning that it takes about 6 weeks from the date the paperwork is filed until the day someone is sitting in a Hearing Room. I have all of my cases set for a live Hearing in the Livonia Office of the DAAD. Even for those Clients who live out of state, or live in Michigan but far away for the Metro-Detroit area, I have all of my cases heard in the Livonia Office. For what it’s worth, there are 3 places where the Hearings are conducted: Livonia, Lansing and Grand Rapids. Throughout the state there are plenty of Secretary of State Branch Offices that will host a “video Hearing” where a Hearing Officer in one of these 3 locations will conduct the proceeding via closed-circuit TV, but I firmly believe in doing a live, in-person Hearing, and then only in front of those Hearing Officers with whom I have years and years of experience.
Because my Office is located in Mt. Clemens, I have the ability to have some of my Hearings done by video just down the road at the Secretary of State Branch Office on Metro Parkway (16 Mile Rd.) and Gratiot. This is only about 4 minutes from my Office, yet I would never even consider it, choosing instead to drive for about an hour to Livonia to have the case heard in person. I certainly don’t do this because I like driving so much; I do it because I know it’s better, and the results bear that out.
Amongst the many benefits of a live Hearing, knowing the specific Hearing Officer to whom the case has been assigned is perhaps the most important. In any License Appeal Hearing, there are certain, core questions that any Hearing Officer will ask (“when is the last time you consumed any alcohol…?”). Yet each Hearing Officer has his or her own particular areas of interest, and knowing those provides a huge head start in preparing for the actual Hearing.
For example, let’s assume that Hearing Officer X will, of course, ask those core questions that will be asked in any Hearing. Beyond those, however, Hearing Officer X may approach someone actively involved in AA one way, someone who used to go to AA, but doesn’t any longer, in another way, and have a third set of questions for those people who have never been to AA.
To take the example further, Hearing Officer X may ask an AA person what the 4th step is, while Hearing Officer Y will ask an AA person to explain what step or steps they’ve talked about recently at a meeting, or that is particularly important to their Recovery.
If the whole process doesn’t make someone nervous enough, walking into a Hearing Room and not having a clue about what’s going to be asked must make matters worse. I make sure that doesn’t happen. In fact, I tell my Clients, and we usually laugh at this, even though it’s true, that we will spend more time preparing for the Hearing than we will at the Hearing. The Hearing itself is limited to an hour, and usually lasts between 35 and 45 minutes. My final prep time with a Client right before the Hearing usually lasts for more than an hour.
It is because of that attention to detail and preparation that I win my cases. In the year 2010, I won 100% of the cases I handled, and in about the last 26 months I have won 180 of the last 182 cases I’ve accepted. That’s a 98.9% win rate, and that explains why I guarantee I’ll win any License Appeal I accept, or the next one is free. When you win the first time, there is no “next one.”
The License Appeal process is often misunderstood or oversimplified. Some people blaze in without understanding its full complexity and get Denied. Others hear horror stories about how it’s almost impossible to win, and get scared off. The truth is that it is complex, but not unmanageably so. If a person is legally eligible to file an Appeal and has made those lifestyle changes necessary to support their continued Sobriety, then it’s just a matter of taking the time to do it right.
And doing it right takes time. I charge $3000 for a License Appeal, but I also put a ton of time and effort into each one, beginning with that first 3-hour meeting. I do it this way in order to win, and I win because I do it this way. I have, on many occasions, observed that there are no shortcuts to this process. I won’t take on a case, no matter how willing someone is to pay, unless I know the person is truly committed to their Sobriety. Nor will I take a case where someone thinks that paying my fee means no work for them. Winning is a result of preparation, pure and simple. In a process that has as many steps as a License Appeal, it means there is going to be a lot of work.
The upside is that I can guide the Client through that. Once a person has accepted that they’ll never get back on the road unless they do the necessary legwork to win a License Appeal, then they’re probably ready to begin. There’s an old Chinese proverb that goes “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” I like to add to that another line from the great lyricist Neil Peart: “Good work is the key to good fortune; winners take that praise, losers seldom take that blame.”
In the end, if everything is done right, a person will win their Appeal, and get back on the road. Even then, for that first year, they will be monitored, both by the imposition of a Restricted License and the mandatory use of an ignition interlock. But as a first, solid step toward full Restoration, it sure feels good to sit in the driver’s seat for a change.