The Driver’s License Restoration Appeal Process in Michigan – Getting Back on the Road – Part 2

In Part 1 of this article, we looked at the importance of a person’s self-recognition of an alcohol problem within the context of a Drivers’ License Restoration Appeal. We set out the real requirements of the governing Rule in a License Appeal, and we reviewed how those requirements must be met by “clear and convincing evidence.”

In this second part, we will begin by examining the various Appeal options available to both Michigan residents, and former residents who now live out-of-state but have a Michigan “hold” on their Driving Record which prevents them from obtaining a Driver’s License in another state. Then, we’ll take a look at what it means to be a “Driver’s License Restoration Lawyer,” and I’ll go over a few things I think are important to bear in mind as a person searches for the right Lawyer to handle their License Appeal.

KeysPlease2.jpgIf a person with a Revoked License is a Michigan Resident, the only way to “win back” their Michigan License is to go through the full Driver’s License Restoration Appeal process. This means they will, at some point, have to appear for a Hearing, even if that hearing is done by video, via closed circuit TV (for the younger readers, this is something like Skype, but with a bad connection and an even worse webcam).

If a person now lives outside of Michigan, or is otherwise a resident of another state, they can either come back to Michigan for a full Hearing, or they can file what is essentially an Appeal by mail, called an Administrative Review, thereby avoiding the trip back to Michigan. Whichever method is used, the person, instead of seeking a License, will try to obtain a “Clearance” which will allow them to get a License in another state.

Not only do I strongly advise against Administrative Reviews (remember, out of 875 such requests received by the state in 2010, a total of 650 of them were DENIED, meaning that 75% of all such “Appeals by mail” were losers), I also firmly believe that the best way to win an Appeal is to appear for a live, and In-Person Hearing. I absolutely DO NOT believe in video Hearings, and will not do one. In fact, I have pointed out that recently, the Secretary of State has opened a video terminal about 3 to 4 minutes from my Office. I could easily choose to do any and/or all of my Hearings there. It would be a lot more convenient for me to drive 3 to 4 minutes down the road, rather than driving nearly an hour to Livonia, but I take these cases to win them, and guarantee that I will. As a result, I absolutely WILL NOT do anything other than a live, in-person Hearing at the Secretary of State’s Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD) Hearing Office in Livonia, where I know the 5 Hearing Officers well. No second-rate, choppy, impersonal video Hearing done using equipment that was out-of-date a long time ago can compare to the real thing.

Despite my feelings and the statistical facts about Administrative Appeals, I’m not really too concerned with persuading someone not to try that route, if they’re so inclined. I have more than enough work to keep me busy, so I’d rather just deal with someone who thought they would try it on their own, and then lost, and now really wants to do it right, rather than waste a lot of time trying to explain all that in the first place.

I think the more important issue here is where the Hearing is held. I schedule all of my Hearings, no matter where my Client is from, in the Livonia Hearing Office of the DAAD. I know all the Hearing Officers there. I know, when a case is assigned to any one of them, exactly how to prepare my Client for the Hearing. And I know, above all else, that when a case has the makings of a winner, those qualities are enhanced when the case is heard live, and they are correspondingly diminished when the Hearing is being done by video. As I noted before, the technology used by the state for these video Hearings is rather antiquated, if not obsolete, and involves the old “tube” style TV sets, and what looks like an early version of a webcam.

Whatever route a person takes, there are certain documents that must be completed before any Hearing or Review can be requested. Specifically, a person must undergo and have completed a Substance Abuse Evaluation, which is an actual Secretary of State form that is completed by a licensed Substance Abuse Counselor. For my part, I must meet with the Client for 3 hours before they go and have this Evaluation completed, in order to prepare them for it. If this step is overlooked, then there clearly is no “plan” in place to put together a winning Appeal, and everything else that follows will be a matter of luck.

In addition, a person must also submit various Letters of Support.

Before we get into those things, this is as good a place as any to talk about finding the right Lawyer to handle a Driver’s License Restoration Appeal. In the first place, a person should be looking for a Driver’s License Restoration Attorney, and not just a Lawyer who “does” License Appeals. Lots of Lawyers claim they “do” License Appeals, but anyone worth considering should, at the very least, be able to talk about the number of cases they handle, how many they win, and, in my judgment, offer a guarantee of success, as I do.

Almost every week, at least 1 of my new License cases involves someone who either tried on their own, and lost, or who used some Lawyer who said he or she “does” License cases. I have seen some pretty heavy-hitting Lawyer’s names on those losing decisions. I have seen the names of Lawyers who are hundreds of times more skilled at Criminal Trial work than I could ever be. I have seen Lawyers who command huge Fees in other areas of expertise. And every time I see their names, it’s on a losing decision.

Being the best Trial Lawyer who can defend a huge drug case or murder charge has nothing to do with being a Driver’s License Restoration Lawyer. The best cardiac surgeon in the country is certainly not the right surgeon to repair a compound leg fracture. What makes me shudder is when I meet with a Client, and discover they paid nearly twice as much as my $3000 Fee for some big name who went in, and had already lost the case before it ever really started because he or she does not specialize in these Appeals and missed something.

By the same token, hiring a Lawyer on a low-bidder basis is another losing strategy. I’ve heard of Lawyers charging $1500, or even less, for a License Appeal. I can only wonder how they can convince someone that they are some kind of “expert” while low-balling the price. If I take 3 hours just to prepare a Client for the first step n a License Appeal, and I know I have hours more reviewing and revising Letters and still more hours reviewing documents and preparing for the Hearing, and then even more hours preparing the Client for the Hearing, Plus a few hours getting to, conducting, and then getting back from the Hearing, I can only wonder, how much of that is left out in exchange for a “cheapie” Fee?

To me, hiring a Lawyer for something like a License Appeal is a big deal. Not only will a person be stuck bumming rides for at least another year if they lose, but the reason or reasons they lost in the first place will thereafter need to be fixed in order to prepare next year’s Appeal. To me, this is like corrective eye surgery. This is the one place where you want the BEST job possible, and you want it done right the first time. Bargains aren’t really bargains, when you’re talking about things as important as being able to see, or not, and being able to drive, or not.

I once asked an ophthalmologist friend who does not do that kind of corrective surgery why some Doctors charged a premium Fee, and others advertised big discounts. His answer scared me…

He told me that the top-shelf eye surgeons invest in and use the latest, greatest most technologically advanced equipment on the market. That is built into the price. When those Doctors get the new stuff, they sell the old stuff. And the “discount” operations use that older equipment.

Thus, saving money inevitably means corners are cut. And while no one should pay too much for anything, I at least offer a guarantee so that the Client knows they’ll only pay me once, and I’ll get them back on the road, whatever it takes, although we both have a vested interest in getting that done the first time.

As I observed in the first part of this article, the most important issue before the DAAD is whether the person’s alcohol problem is likely to remain under control, and at the heart of the License Appeal itself, this means that the person either is, or is not, a safe bet to never drink again.

Knowing all the rules and procedures of the DAAD is, of course, crucially important, but underlying all of that is a fundamental, and by that I mean a complete and thorough, knowledge of the whole panorama of the onset and growth of an alcohol problem (meaning alcoholism), as well as the Recovery from it. A person must understand their progression from normal drinker to problem drinker, the progressive nature of the disease of alcoholism, and the whole process of Recovery, from first recognizing the problem to understanding it, and then accepting it, and thereafter making the commitment get and stay Sober, as well as establishing a Sober lifestyle to remain permanently alcohol-free. And the Lawyer handling a License Appeal must know this stuff inside and out. Merely suggesting that someone with an alcohol problem go to AA is like telling someone with an infection to get rid of it. An antibiotic that works for one person may do nothing for another, and may cause complications and have serious side effects in someone else. In other words, what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another, for any of many reasons.

In my case, I have made a nearly 20-year, in-depth study of Recovery, meaning the whole addiction and alcoholic process, as well as the various ways that a person can overcome such a problem. And this is not something that a person can just learn from a few websites; it requires lifelong study. 10 years ago, I would have probably considered myself a near expert on this subject. A decade later, I know much more than I did then, and have certainly learned enough to know that my knowledge of alcohol and substance abuse problems, and Recovery from them, will continue to grow with every passing year. This subject, however, is a passion of mine, and it makes me uniquely qualified to help my Clients and handle License Appeals, where the principal inquiry is about their Sobriety.

I have come to recognize that it is breadth and depth of my knowledge of alcoholism and Recovery that accounts for my success as a Driver’s License Restoration Lawyer, and not the other way around. In my opinion, a License Appeal Lawyer must understand how and why an alcohol problem is either diagnosed as “abuse” or “dependence.” The Lawyer must have a working knowledge of the process of the disease of alcoholism, and help the Client understand how and where they fall within the continuum of the progression of that disease. And most of all, the Lawyer needs to have a working knowledge of the Principles of Recovery, which can mean anything from a person getting better with the help of AA, to getting the tools to stay Sober through counseling or rehab, all the way to the use of cognitive restructuring as a means to establish and ensure lifetime Sobriety. This, in turn, helps the Client look back on their metamorphosis from drinker to non-drinker and be able to put the words to their Recovery story.

This is really no different than expecting a Patent Attorney to understand the basics of engineering (most Patent Lawyers, by the way, have technical undergraduate degrees), or a Medical Malpractice Attorney to have a detailed knowledge of human anatomy.

Finally, I think it is often overlooked that a person should like the Lawyer they are going to hire. They should feel confident in their Lawyer, and trust their Lawyer, and be comfortable with that person. If any of those things are missing, no matter how well-qualified the person is, there won’t be, at least in my mind, a strong enough basis to form that special “connection.”

In Part 3 of this article, we will continue our extended “overview” examination of the Driver’s License Restoration Appeal process by looking at the 2 things that must be filed with the Secretary of State in order to begin a License Appeal: The Substance Abuse Evaluation, and the Letters of Support.