In our 30-plus years of work as Michigan Driver’s License restoration lawyers, my team and I had always preferred to conduct our restoration appeal hearings live, and in person. When the Covid pandemic hit, the entire license appeal process came to a screeching halt. Later, when hearings resumed, none were live; all of them were (and still are) conducted “virtually.” A virtual hearing is very different than the video hearings previously used by the Michigan Secretary of State. In his article, we’re going to examine this, and learn why the new way of doing things is actually pretty good.
First, the reader needs to understand some differences between what was, and what is. The video hearings from before Covid are nothing like the online, virtual hearings in use today. In the past, a video hearing required a person to physically appear at a designated Secretary of State branch office. These offices were equipped with a special room that had a kind of closed-circuit TV on a wall. There was also a large, motorized camera nearby and somewhere, a room mic, as well. The sound was unfocused, boomy, and, to put it bluntly, just plain awful.
The picture on the hearing room’s TV wasn’t much better. It was wide-angle, as the camera was positioned all the way across the room, in order to capture a long front row desk. This was done so that the picture could include the person appealing, his or her attorney(s), and a witness. The camera could not provide a close up of anyone, so nuances of body language and facial expression were completely lost. It was like early 90’s technology. There simply was no detail in the picture, and the sound was so poor that trying to make out what was being said was both difficult and distracting.
Nuance is, of course, important. In the context of a license restoration appeal hearing, people have to testify about their sobriety. Specifically, they must explain how and why they arrived at the decision to finally quit drinking (and/or use drugs), and how they’ve managed to stay clean. Sometimes, people get emotional when they talk about the damage done in their past, or the changes in their lives since they quit drinking (and/or drugging) and got sober.
Here’s a real-life example: I once had a big, burly, diesel truck mechanic in for a hearing. He was obviously a strong guy. He wore a black leather vest, and could have easily worked as a bodyguard. During his hearing, as he talked about his sobriety, he got choked up, and began to cry. The hearing officer, seeing that the big man felt funny about it, nodded reassuringly, and said, “It’s alright.”
His case was so good that the hearing officer, in an unusual move, stated right then and there that he was going to grant his appeal, and the big guy once again had tears rolling down his cheeks. Even I got a bit choked up, just watching him.
This would have been difficult, if not impossible to see with the old system used by the Secretary of State for video hearings. However, has his hearing been virtual, the way things are done now, these details (or at least most of them) would have been picked up.
There are a million ways small “tells” in a person’s body language or facial expressions can have a powerful impact on his or her case. Sometimes, those things are every bit as important as the words that come out of their mouths. Beyond just saying the right things, a person needs to convey to the hearing officer that he or she is genuine, and testifying honestly. Those nuances can be seen using the virtual hearing platform.
However, that all got lost in the old, closed-circuit video license restoration appeal hearings. Fortunately, and as has been the message here, that’s not true anymore. Indeed, this kind of “up close and personal” experience is the key difference between the old “video” hearings and the online, remote license restoration appeal hearings being done today.
As of this writing, all restoration appeal hearings are still being done remotely.
This new way of doing them has, in fact, worked out rather well. To be sure, nothing done remotely is exactly the same as in-person. However, the platform used for restoration appeal hearings (Microsoft Teams) is very good.
People log on using their computer, or smartphone, and it’s very much like a FaceTime video. This means that many of the subtle details lost using a crappy old-tech camera from across the room do, in fact, come through, and rather clearly, at that. Even better, because people typically sit within mere inches of the microphone on their device, the sound is MUCH better.
I was always strongly opposed to the old video hearings. I had written and published a number of articles on that very point. To put it bluntly, I thought they sucked. I would not do them, even though it was way more convenient for me and my team. As it turns out, there is a branch office with a video room less than 5 minutes from our firm’s main office.
By contrast, the nearest hearing office is in Livonia, about an hour away. Without a single exception, we always made the trek for a live license restoration appeal hearing. Over the course of many years, and, quite literally, thousands of hearings, that’s thousands of hours of driving I could have avoided.
To be sure, I didn’t opt for live hearings because I like driving. I did it because we know how to win, and we know that the old method of doing video hearings was significantly inferior.
It’s important to remember that our firm GUARANTEES to win every driver’s license restoration appeal and clearance appeal case we take. The flip side of our guarantee is that if we don’t win, we’re stuck with a case until it does succeed. Thus, we’re not going to take any shortcuts, or otherwise settle for convenience. Instead, we’re going to do what we know gives us the best chance to succeed the first time. We’re quite literally banking on doing just that.
As much as our clients want to win, so do we. The last thing we want is to have to do a license restoration case all over again, without charge, if it loses. That’s double the work for half the pay. To wind up in that boat because we settled for convenience, instead of quality, would be a nightmare. We are, therefore, as invested in winning as our clients.
As stated at the outset of this piece, when the Covid pandemic hit, all license restoration appeal hearings stopped cold. Later, when it was announced they would resume virtually, using the Microsoft Teams platform, I had no idea what that meant. I had never even heard of Microsoft Teams. Although I FaceTime my own daughter several times every day, my first thought didn’t go to that kind of interaction. Instead, I could only imagine these would be like the old “video hearings” I had completely rejected.
Thankfully, I was wrong.
What I discovered was a great new way of conducting license restoration appeal hearings. The picture was clear, and each person appeared on the screen, in his or her own box. There is no useless and indistinct wide-angle shot. Instead, the image is close up. Because the hearings are almost always comprised of just the lawyer, the hearing officer, and the client, it’s not like there are 10 little boxes on the screen. We’ve found that even our clients who use their cellphones have no problem with this system.
Unlike the distant and crappy image provided by the old closed-circuit video system formerly used by the Secretary of State, remote hearings capture facial expressions rather well. Of course, nothing seen on video is quite the same as seeing it live and in person, but as compromises go, this isn’t very much of one.
Apparently, there is no plan for the state to resume in-person license restoration appeal hearings. That may change at some point, but things have worked out well so far. From my perspective, there is a small trade-off between the dynamics of an in-person hearing for the convenience of remote, but in this context, I am absolutely convinced that, as far as remote hearings go, convenience wins out.
The convenience of having a remote hearing is a HUGE factor for anyone out of state, or who doesn’t live close to the Michigan Secretary of State’s Livonia Office of Hearings and Administrative Oversight (OHAO, the division that handles all driver’s license restoration appeal cases).
Whereas the old, close-circuit video license restoration appeal hearings downright sucked, the remote proceedings don’t. If the Secretary of State offered the option of live hearings tomorrow, and even if they moved the OHAO office close to our main office, I would still choose the remote option, simply because it’s so much easier to fire up the camera from my conference room, or my study, at home.
It’s easier on people, too. Nobody had to go anywhere, worry about traffic, of how to find the hearing office in some strip mall.
Of course, we have the occasional client who is either not technically proficient, or just downright afraid, so we offer everyone the option of coming to our office and sitting with us as we conduct their hearing. Our first priority, of course, is winning, so we’ll accommodate anyone’s needs to do that. Remember, we have a guarantee on the line. There certainly is no point in making the process any more difficult than it has to be for someone.
For now, at least, and as long as the Secretary of State is conducting license restoration appeal hearings remotely, we’re happy to go along.
If you’re looking for a lawyer to win back your driver’s license, or obtain the clearance of a Michigan hold on your driving record so that you can obtain a license in another state, be a smart consumer and read around. Pay attention to how different lawyers explain the license appeal process, and how they explain their various approaches to it.
This blog is a great place to start. It is fully searchable, and has over 670 articles in the driver’s license restoration section to-date. I write and publish new, original content every week. The reader can find more useful information here than any and everywhere else combined. Don’t take my word for it, though, check around for yourself.
When you’ve done enough of that, start calling around. You can learn a lot by speaking with a live person. As you do that, make sure you give our office a ring, as well. We can handle your case no matter where you live.
All of our consultations are free, confidential, and done over the phone, right when you call. My team and I are very friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions and explain things. We’ll even be happy to compare notes with anything some other lawyer has told you.
We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST), at either 248-986-9700, or 586-465-1980.