On my website, and in many of my driver’s license restoration articles on this blog, I examine the legal and practical aspects of the Michigan driver’s license appeal process. There are specific things that need to be done to file a proper license reinstatement case with the Michigan Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearing Section (AHS). In this article, I want to examine how I do things in my office to get to that point. My approach is, of course, intertwined with the system established by the state for the filing and scheduling of license restoration hearings. I think I’ve gotten it down to a science, because I guarantee to win every case I take. There’s no “catch” to this, other than the requirement that a person must have honestly quit drinking before I will take his or her case. In this 2-part article, I want to talk about what I do to prepare a license appeal case, and what my client can expect to happen as we go along.
The requirement that a person be genuinely sober is, for all practical purposes, the “meat and potatoes” of a driver’s license appeal case. Once I know someone is really in recovery, and as long as he or she is otherwise eligible to proceed (both legally and practically, meaning having been off probation or parole long enough), I can make his or her case a winner. It begins with a phone call to my office. All of the consultation stuff is handled over the phone, right when a person calls. One of the first and most important things we must establish is that a person is both legally eligible to file a license appeal (meaning that, according to the driving record, it is legal to proceed) as well as practically eligible. “Practically eligible” requires that although a person may be legally able to file an appeal, he or she also meets the Secretary of State’s criteria to actually win. For example, and as noted just above, you cannot get your license back if you are still on probation or parole. The Secretary of State (SOS) requires that, amongst other things, you prove some “voluntary sobriety” time. While probation or parole, where you are not allowed to drink, and are subject to being violated if you do, and it doesn’t matter if you are tested for compliance or not. The SOS takes the position that none of the time on probation or parole (with the exception of being on sobriety court probation – by law, that time counts as voluntary abstinence) without drinking counts as voluntary abstinence. This means you have to be off of probation or parole for a while (again, this does NOT apply if you’re on sobriety court probation) before you have a chance to win a license appeal, even though, legally speaking, you can file one.
After explaining the process, answering the person’s questions, and then screening him or her, the next step is to make an appointment – my first meeting with a new client. This takes around 3 hours (often a bit more), and is done before my client has his or her substance abuse evaluation completed. The main point of that first meeting is to prepare the client for that evaluation. Many of my clients go directly from my office to the evaluator I use (and whose office is located just a few blocks from mine; don’t worry, we help coordinate all the appointment stuff). For those who live near enough to my office, it is less important to have the evaluation already scheduled when they meet with me, so they can set that up later. And just for the record, even though the form is technically called a “substance use evaluation,” everyone just calls it a “substance abuse evaluation,” so we will, too. Now, let’s shift out focus to what goes on at my first meeting with a new client…
We’ve already established that genuine sobriety is a requirement to win (and for me to take on) a license restoration appeal. Yet many people who are really sober have never thought of their journey from drinker to non-drinker as any kind of story, but it is just that – a recovery story. Part of what we’ll do when we first meet is put that together. In fact, helping a person put all of this into words is a key part of my job. I must be mindful that my client’s story has to fit within the framework of the formal license appeal process, so I think it is important for me, early on, to explain that process in a kind of “big picture” way. This helps put everything into place, so that beyond just talking about “this rule” and “that rule,” the whole system makes sense, and so, therefore, will the appeal procedure, as well. In order to file a license appeal case, there are a number of things that have to be submitted, and these include a current substance abuse evaluation form (actually, the form is technically called a substance use evaluation, but absolutely everyone calls it a “substance abuse evaluation, so we’ll just follow suit) issued by the state along with at least 3 letters of support (I require at least 4, for backup purposes).
My staff will always instruct the client to bring a current copy of his or her driving record (unless I’ve already received it). I’ll copy that, and when I sit down with the client, will put a blank copy of the substance abuse evaluation form in front of him or her. On the other side of the desk, I take out and “mark up” the driving record, and begin filling out a form of my own creation called a “substance abuse evaluation checklist.” My checklist essentially follows the state’s form line-by-line, but delves more deeply into the information that MUST appear on the official version that we submit. At the end of our meeting, I give a copy of my completed checklist to the client so that he or she will, in turn, give it to the evaluator. As much as one might think the information sought on the state’s form is pretty straightforward, there are nuances about things that should – and equally crucial – should not be included, and that are only learned through trial and error. In the context of license appeals, almost of that learning is done “the hard way,” by doing it wrong the first time and then figuring it out. In other words, experience matters – a lot.
As we go through the evaluation, we’ll not only get the information needed for the evaluator to complete it, but we’ll flush out the story of your change from drinker to non-drinker, as well. I know this may sound kind of cheesy, but for all the details and facts we need to put together, part of what we’re after is to capture the “spirit” of your recovery. There is a kind of magical quality to all of this, and I want to capture a little of that and mix it in with the otherwise dry facts and words of your case. There is emotion involved in the decision to quit drinking. No one decides to stop because it’s working out so well. Most people have a pretty clear “hitting bottom” moment. We need to convey that and make our case 3-dimensional, in a manner of speaking.
From the moment a person has had enough (AA people call this being sick and tired of being sick and tired), the transition to an alcohol-free lifestyle begins. This is not quick, nor is it easy. If you’ve cut out going to the bar, or stopping off at the liquor store on the way home from work, you’re going to have to find other things to do. Even for those who go to AA, it can all sound all great to “avoid wet faces and wet places,” while you’re in a meeting but once it’s over, you can be in for a long night with nothing to do. It takes time (some even call this a kind of “mourning period”) for life to normalize, and to fill the time freed up by not drinking. There can be a hole left when you suddenly drop all people and places that used to be part of your life. Whether it happens sooner or later, life does get better. A lot better. This is really the defining trait of sobriety. Sober people will report how much better life has become over the years, and that they’d never want to go back to drinking, whereas people who are just hanging on to abstinence by the skin of their teeth simply endure not drinking and can only focus on not getting in trouble anymore.
We’ll take our time and go through everything on the substance abuse (use) evaluation, and I will complete my checklist and my markups on the driving record. Normally, I’ll go run off copies for the evaluator (after a few hours, it feels good to stand up and stretch anyway), and when I return, the client and I will start going over how to do the letters of support. I provide a sample letter in the folder given to each new client, but we’ll need to spend some time on what should go into each letter, as well as what should not. I ask that all support letters be typed in draft form, and then sent to me for correction and editing. I make changes to about 99% of them, and I don’t mean that as an exaggeration. Some people bring draft letters with them, while others send them in later. Either way, very few escape the editing prowess of my red pen
At the end of the meeting, either Ann, my senior assistant, or Ashlee, my paralegal will take care of the money stuff. The reader can find the current cost for a license restoration in the Fees section of my website. That amount is broken into 3 equal installments beginning with the first 1/3 payment due at our first meeting, the second 1/3 is due when we are ready to request the hearing and the final payment is due one week prior to the actual hearing date. For all my knowledge and time, that fee buys a guarantee to win your license restoration or clearance case, so beyond everything else, you’ll only pay me once to get back on the road again, legally.
At that point, we’re done. Most people come to my office having already scheduled an appointment with my evaluator, so they’ll either go there directly or perhaps grab a bite in town (Mt. Clemens is the very picture of a nice, small town, and there are quite a few restaurants within walking distance of my office). Those who live in the Greater-Detroit area will often just go home with plans to call the evaluator in the next several days to set up an appointment. The evaluator will also administer the mandatory urine screen as part of the evaluation itself, making this a fairly easy, “one and done” deal.
When a client leaves my office, I will either have, or be waiting for draft copies of their letters of support and will be waiting for the evaluation, as well. The evaluation takes about 2 to 3 weeks to be completed, because the urine screen is sent to a lab out of state and the evaluator must include those results in the analysis. On my end, I wait for the evaluation before I begin reviewing the letters. The evaluation and letters of support are only “good” for 90 days, meaning that they must be filed with the Sec. of State within 90 days to count as valid in order to request a hearing date. To make sure everything is handled within the state’s time limits, I begin counting that 90 days from the day my client has the evaluation conducted, because that’s also the day the urine sample is collected. This, for me, means I should be getting to work on those letters of support next.
We’ll stop here for now, and return, in part 2, to pick up by looking at my work on the letters of support, the filing of the case and notice of the hearing date, as well as how we prepare for the hearing, and what goes on when we actually hold it.