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Clear a Michigan Secretary of State hold on your Driving Record – Part 1

This will be a 2-part article for people who live out of state and can’t get or renew a driver’s license there because of a Michigan hold on their driving record. Most (but not all) of the people who fall into this category previously had a Michigan driver’s license that was revoked for multiple DUI’s. Less often, some folks affected by this may have never had a Michigan license, but instead picked up a 2nd or subsequent offense here, which cause the revocation of their driving privileges within this state that, in turn, became a “hold” on their license.

Clearance_Ahead-720x300-300x147No matter what the backstory, the bottom line is that there are a lot of people who don’t live here but can’t drive because of a Michigan hold on their driving record. The fix for this problem is called a “clearance,” which is a release of that hold. Clearances often get lumped into the broader “driver’s license restoration” category, because getting a clearance requires submitting the same evidence that one would file in a driver’s license restoration case. In addition, the appeal process is similar, and if done properly, is actually identical. We’ll get to that soon.

There are 2 key differences between a straight-up driver’s license restoration and a clearance, however, beginning with the fact that only a Michigan resident can “restore” his or her license. No state can issue a driver’s license to a non-resident. In other words, a person must declare residency in a particular state in order to be eligible for a license there. Thus, anyone who no longer lives (or never did live) in Michigan can only obtain a clearance of the hold on his or her driving record so that he or she can go to the DMV in their new state and then get a license.

The second key difference concerns the process. There is a method that enables people who live out of state to skip the whole license appeal hearing and request a clearance simply by sending in their evidence through what’s called an “administrative review,” which is essentially nothing more or less than an appeal by mail. Administrative reviews are, however, about the biggest verifiable losers there are, with 3 out of every 4 such cases being denied.

In other words, only 1 out of 4 administrative appeals ever win, and no one knows how many times those who eventually do win have tried before. With those odds, the term “loser” is really quite fitting. My goal in this piece is to explain why the proper way for someone to get a clearance requires coming back to Michigan. That’s the way I do it – and I guarantee to win every case I take.

Before we get too far along, let me repeat and make clear that the only way I win clearances for my clients is by having them come back to Michigan. They’ll have to come 2 times, although their trips will be spaced out several months apart. I do not and will not have anything to do with an administrative (mail-in) appeal, even if offered (and I have been, many times) my full fee.

Because of my guarantee, and the reputation for quality work I have to established within the system, I’m not interested in doing an appeal by mail, even though it’s less work for the same money. I don’t ever want my name associated with that kind of short-cut approach, or with evidence that is sub-par.

When I accept either a license restoration or clearance case, I control everything about it, right from the start. Let me explain: every so often, we get an email from someone who has filed all of his or her paperwork, and then wants me to come along to the hearing. I always decline to get involved in these situations, no matter how much the person is willing to pay, because I haven’t exercised control over the evidence that was submitted, and, as experience has proven, I know that when I do look it over, I’ll shake my head and point out all the things that are wrong with it.

I’m not going to put my name on that, much less my guarantee behind it.

A similar situation arises when someone contacts me before filing their paperwork, and wants me to “look it over.” I know that, if I do, I’ll find problems with almost every last bit of it, and wind up doing everything all over again. I always pass on these offers, as well.

A third scenario occurs when someone wants to hire me for pretty much the whole case, but already has his or her substance use evaluation completed. I’ll look it over, but always with the explicit understanding that it almost certainly won’t be good enough and that I’ll wind up sending them to my evaluator.

Interestingly, it is so unusual for me to come across an evaluation that is good enough, that, in the few rare cases I have, we have saved those evaluator’s contact information. In fact, that’s how I came to use 2 of the evaluators to whom I referent clients when their particular office location works out better for the client. To be clear, though, those 2 came to my attention after reading hundreds and hundreds of evaluations, and my main evaluator is located just down the road from my office.

Circling back, the point I’m trying to make here is that I can guarantee to win every case I take precisely because I control everything that’s done in it, from the first moment through the last word of the actual hearing. And by “control,” what I mean, really, is “quality control.”

And that takes us to one of the main issues about a mail-in versus a proper clearance appeal: when a client hires me, he or she will first come to my office for an initial meeting that lasts about 3 hours, the main purpose of which is to prepare him or her to go and have his or her substance use evaluation completed. It’s during this meeting that we get to know the client, explain how things work, and actually start the process in motion.

We don’t spend 3 hours talking about the weather. There is a lot to cover, and the goal is to make sure the client is completely ready to go from my office directly to MY evaluator, who knows exactly how to do evaluations for Michigan Secretary of State driver’s license appeals.

Doing evaluations properly for license appeals requires a lot of experience specifically having done evaluations for license appeals. This is not a job for someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time at it.

It’s also a fact that virtually NO out-of-state evaluators will have any experience doing Michigan Secretary of State driver’s license appeal substance use evaluations. The state doesn’t help with this, either, because it generates an official form which just about every substance abuse counselor who speaks English will look at and figure he or she can complete. Part of the problem is that the information the hearing officers require on this form is NOT obvious by just looking at it.

It doesn’t matter if the person doing the evaluation is the world’s greatest substance abuse counselor; unless and until he or she has been doing Michigan Secretary of State driver’s license appeal evaluations for a long period of time, with direct feedback from either a driver’s license restoration lawyer, like me, or because he or she has actually attended numerous hearings in person, they’ll never understand the nuances of what’s being asked in the form.

I have no reason to exaggerate about this. I could easily ask for my entire fee for an administrative review and get it. In fact, by requiring people to come back, I lose more potential clients overall than I actually get. What makes me do things the way I do is that I guarantee my results, and therefore can ill afford to lose an appeal and have to do a case all over again. And how long do you think I could submit sub-standard paperwork before my reputation took a hit? There simply is no long game doing administrative appeals…

Instead of the quick and easy, I do things like actually taking my main evaluator sit in with me on license appeal hearings to see how the information that’s included (and kept out) of an evaluation is analyzed and questioned by the actual hearing officers who decide these cases.

As good as I am now, the unvarnished truth is that I knew a heck of a lot more about license appeals after I had handled a couple of hundred of these cases than I did before. I don’t care how smart someone may be, a lot of this stuff is learned by experience, which is a nice way of saying that it’s learned the hard way.

My team and I speak with our main evaluator multiple times every week. We go over individual cases before and after hearings. I can honestly say that, among my main evaluator and the small circle of others that I use, they have more experience in license appeals than the vast majority of all the lawyers out there doing these cases. These evaluators count their experience in the hundreds, and, in the case of my main evaluator, thousands of cases, and who are constantly receiving direct feedback about what specific information the Secretary of State hearing officers wants on the evaluation, and how they interpret it.

This is why I only use one of that small circle of evaluators. Because many of the people who hire me have tried a license appeal before and lost, either on their own, or with some other lawyer, I have, over the decades, read thousands of evaluations. I can honestly say that over 99% of them aren’t adequate for the task. Remember, I noted that of all the evaluations I have read, only a few were good enough for me to retain the names of the evaluator, and 2 of those are part of the small circle I use now.

With that as a backdrop, it makes sense that there is almost no way someone is going to walk into some out-of-state counselor’s office and wind up with an evaluation that meets the expectations of the Michigan Secretary of State.

As I noted, this has nothing to do with how good any particular person may be as a counselor. In fact, that person may do a clinically rock-solid evaluation, but that has nothing to do with providing the specific information the Michigan Secretary of State hearing officers are looking for. It took me a lot of time and experience to learn the legal and practical ins and out of doing driver’s license restoration and clearance appeals many years ago.

Often enough, we get a call from the the evaluator with questions about some aspect of a case before the evaluation is completed. This reflects my evaluator’s deeper understanding that the state is picky-picky, and that the information provided within the evaluation has to be accurate and right the first time. That will never happen when some counselor out of state is filling out the state’s form for the first time.

When we have that first meeting with a client, we prepare a packet of documents that he or she will provide to the evaluator, including a marked-up copy of the driving record, and a separate form, of my own creation, called a “substance abuse evaluation checklist” (yes, even though the official form is entitled a “Substance Use Evaluation,” just about everyone calls it a “substance abuse evaluation,” so I do, as well) that follows the state form almost line-by-line, and provides details and other relevant information so the evaluator can complete the official document accurately and completely.

Doing this right and well enough to be able to guarantee a win is all about quality control, and there is absolutely none of that in an administrative review.

We’ll stop here for now, and pick up in part 2 by looking at how all of this extends the letters of support, the importance of holding a hearing, and how “quality control” means not just preparing for it, but also the specific hearing officer deciding the case, as well.