All the preparation involved in a Michigan Driver’s License Restoration or Clearance case leads up to one thing: The Hearing. In previous Driver’s License Restoration articles, I have examined the preparation leading up to the Hearing, and have over-viewed what takes place at the Hearing itself. In this article, I want to come back to the actual Hearing, and focus on what I do, and how I conduct a License Appeal Hearing.
I think it’s important to understand that I conduct the Hearing in the sense that I open it, decide what evidence to present, and how to present it. I ask the very first questions, and I establish the theme and set the tone for what’s to follow. This is critically important to winning back your License, and accounts, at least in part, for why I can Guarantee I will win your case the first time around. I have heard that, in some cases where a person has tried to win their License back with another Lawyer, and lost, the Lawyer didn’t ask any questions. I cannot imagine such a situation.
Certainly, if a person goes in on their own, unrepresented, the only questions asked will come from the Hearing Officer. In such a case, the person will have no opportunity to “make their case” or have any real hand in presenting their Recovery story. While this is hardly a recipe for success, at least when a person loses a “do-it-yourself” Appeal, they can console themselves that they got what they paid for. It makes no sense, however, to pay some Lawyer to sit next to you and not do anything except act as a spectator to what unfolds.
License Appeal Hearings are set every hour, on the hour, at 9, 10 and 11 am, and then at 1, 2, 3 and 4 pm. Each Hearing can only last an hour, although most (at least those that I conduct) are over in about half that time. All my cases are heard in the Livonia Branch Office of the Michigan Secretary of State’s Driver Assessment an Appeal Division Office (DAAD). I only conduct live, in-person Hearings; I will never allow a case of mine to be decided by a “video Hearing.”
The Hearing itself commences when the Hearing Officer to which the case has been assigned opens the lobby door from the Hearing room area to the waiting room, and calls the name of the person. He or she holds the door, and my Client and I will go through the door and into the hallway leading to the Hearing Rooms, and then into the Hearing Room of the particular Hearing Officer who will be deciding the case.
Once inside, the Hearing Officer and I will open the proceedings on the Record by having a short discussion about the evidence that has been submitted before the Hearing, and specifying what, if any, additional evidence is to be submitted at the Hearing. The Hearing officer will identify the various documents submitted, and then will mark each as an exhibit. These will include the Substance Abuse Evaluation and the supporting documents that must be submitted along with it, as well as the Letters of Support.
Next, the Hearing Officer will swear the person in. This puts them under oath. Because I conduct so many Hearings, I have more or less established a certain “procedure” that I follow with each of the Hearing Officers once my Client has been sworn in. A number of factors dictate whether or not I’ll make an “Opening Statement” outlining the proofs that I am going to be presenting, or if I will, instead, go straight to my “Direct Examination,” meaning asking the questions that I have. Either way, I’m the first person to turn to my Client and begin the formal proceedings.
I have previously written about how critically important it is to prepare for the actual Hearing beforehand. My “prep sessions” are almost always conducted the night (as in after-hours and after dinner, when there are no distractions) before the actual Hearing, and usually last at least an hour. During this prep, my Client and I will review the information most important to their case, and how we will be presenting it. We’ll go over what has been filed with the DAAD, and we will, of course, go over the questions that they’ll be answering.
Central to that is the inquiry I’ll be making of my Client. Remember, I ask the first questions. As I explain in the prep session, I’m not going to be battering the Client with hardball questions, but rather asking questions specifically designed to “ease” them into the proceeding, and loosen them up. I want to relax the Client. After more than 22 years, I have a pretty good handle on this. I know when a Client is anywhere from too relaxed, and starts narrating their story with too much detail, and how to jump in and keep them on track so as not to lose the Hearing Officer, to how and when a nervous Client needs to be guided by the hand, so to speak, to provide more detail. The nervous Client will often initially “clam up” and give very short answers. I know how to fix that. Whatever else, I do this as a matter of instinct, so the person feeling some apprehension or has “stage fright” will soon be made to chuckle as I lead them along and relax them by taking the lead.
My first questions are “open-ended” and invite a narrative response. If the reader has taken the time to read any of my other articles about Driver’s License Restoration, they’ll have likely seen that part and parcel of the whole Driver’s License Restoration process is the development of their “Recovery Story.” It is at this first part of the Hearing that I guide the person through telling that story. I can sometimes do that in a mere handful of questions; other times, when the Client needs a helping hand, I will ask a lot of questions to bring out and present that story.
At the end of my questions, our story will have been presented. We will have prepped for this, and my Client will feel like they have walked a familiar path by the time I am finished.
Then, the Hearing Officer takes up the questioning. I will have prepared my Client for the questions they can expect. All of the Hearing Officers will, of course, be asking some of the same, general questions. Beyond that, each of them will ask a number of questions that are unique to their particular concerns and interests. In fact, some Hearing Officers will ask a certain set of questions to someone who still goes to AA, and an entirely different set of questions to someone who does not go to AA.
There are 4 things I do once the Hearing Officer begins his or her questioning. I go over this in significant detail as the Client and I have our pre-Hearing “prep session,” but I can summarize it like this:
- I listen to the question asked, and the answer provided. If I think anything needs to be clarified or “fixed,” I make a note of that so I can “rehabilitate” my Client’s answer when I have my next opportunity to re-question them. This should relax my Client in that they don’t have to over-analyze what’s being asked, and how to answer it, knowing that I’m doing that for them, and that I “have their back,” so to speak.
- I note any “strong” responses my Client makes in answer to the Hearing Officer’s questions, and will circle back to these to drive home any important points I think really help our case. These are invariably spontaneous things, and it is precisely that unrehearsed quality that makes them valuable in supporting our case.
- I also note the tone my Client uses, or the way they answer a question, as support for my case. Thus, if a Client is asked to detail their drinking patterns at the peak of their drinking problem, and they respond by noting “looking back, it seemed like I was lost, or at least drowning in self-pity and alcohol,” I will seize upon that kind of self-insight and use it to our advantage.
- At some point during the Hearing, the Client will likely answer a question in a way that I will write down word for word, and then want to repeat later. At a Hearing I conducted the day before this article was written, I wrote down 3 quotes from my Client’s testimony, and then read them back to the Hearing Officer later on, as part of my Closing Argument.
Once the Hearing Officer has completed his or her questioning, I have the opportunity to re-examine my Client. The only reason for me to go back and question further is to either clarify or fix something (#1, above) or to explore and highlight any strong points made by my Client (#2, above) during the Hearing Officer’s examination. This means that sometimes, I have a few more questions, and sometimes, I don’t.
At the point that the Hearing Officer wraps up his or her inquiry, there is, at most, another question or two, if any, before I begin making my Closing Argument. I think this is another area where all of time and effort I put into a case really pays off. In fact, as I often point out, I have a first-time win rate near 98%, and I back that up with a Guarantee. If I undertake a License Appeal for someone (they do, of course, have to be Sober, first), I Guarantee that I’ll win their License back the first time. They’ll only pay me once; thus, it’s in both our best interests to win the first time, and not have to try again later.
Because I put so much time into developing my Client’s “Recovery Story” and using that as the central theme of our case, and the real basis of our preparation for the Hearing, I can tie all of this together at the end of the case to make my final Argument.
And I do.
From my perspective, it is important to present a coherent and consistent theme from beginning to end to both the case as a whole, and the Hearing, in particular. It is critical that, as I make my final argument, the Hearing Officer is sufficiently captivated and interested to look up at me, and pay attention. If all I am is some stuffed shirt droning on and on about what a nice person my Client is and how he or she needs a License, then I might as well just shut up and go home. That drivel is worthless, and does nothing to help win a License back.
In my cases, I absolutely do tie everything together. The story that my Client and I began to sketch out, months earlier, at our first, 3-hour meeting, is at last presented in its final form. That’s the whole point of the Hearing, really. The Hearing Officer will have the opportunity to confirm that the person described in the Substance Abuse Evaluation, and the person depicted by and in the various Letters of Support is, in fact, the person sitting before them. And when we leave the Hearing room, and the Hearing Officer has a clear idea of why and how a person went from their last drink to a non-drinking, Sober person, all we’ll have to do is wait to receive our winning decision in the mail.