In part 1 of this article, I began explaining why someone who has a Michigan hold on his or her driving record, but doesn’t live here, should come back to get it cleared. The Secretary of State requires an accurate and thorough substance use evaluation, and the best way to get one is by seeing an evaluator with extensive experience doing them for Michigan license appeals, something that simply cannot be found in a therapist who practices in another state. Here, in part 2, I will continue my examination of how this “quality control” applies to the letters of support, the preparation for a live hearing, and then the hearing itself. It is attention to these details that enables me, as Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, to guarantee to win every case I take.
The control I exercise over a case is a direct result of starting out by meeting with the client in person, and getting to know him or her, and the details of his or her recovery story. Everyone who is sober has a recovery story. Whatever else, nobody decides to quit drinking because it’s working out so well. Usually, people stop drinking long after they otherwise should have, a fact that usually becomes clear in hindsight. An important part of my job is to help bring that recovery story to life, so that it gets translated and conveyed properly within the evidence we submit.
Beyond the evaluation, another key part of that evidence are the letters of support. The Secretary of state requires a minimum of 3 such testimonial letters (we require 4 in my office), and that’s part of what we go over at that initial, 3-hour meeting. We take the time to explain to the client how the letters should be done, and what kinds of things should and should not be included within them. In the real world, there is probably no single thing responsible for as many denials in license appeal cases as inadequate letters of support. That is a completely avoidable mistake.
If I’m going to be candid, most of the letters I see need a lot of help. The majority of letters that people do without proper guidance are what a colleague of mine somewhat derisively calls “good guy letters,” meaning that they express how nice a person is, what a good person they are, how he or she has struggled without a license, and how helpful it would be for him or her to be able to drive again, and so on.
In the context of a license appeal, none of that matters at all.
In fact, it doesn’t matter if having a driver’s license is the only way a person can get to necessary, life-saving treatment. Neither does it matter if the person seeking it doesn’t need to drive at all, but just wants to be able to do so for fun.
You win a clearance appeal because you meet the requirements of the Secretary of State’s main rule (Rule 13), by proving that, first, your alcohol problem is under control, meaning that you have a sufficient period of sobriety, and that, second, your alcohol problem is likely to remain under control, meaning that you look like a safe bet to never drink again.
You could be the meanest, most selfish person in the world, and your letters could confirm that, but if they also present the necessary evidence about your sobriety, then they’ll be helpful. If they don’t adequately do that, both as the state expects in the broader, general sense, and within the more specific context of the facts of your individual case, then they’re truly not worth the paper they’re written on.
In my office, we not only provide a generic, example letter to be used as a very rough guide, but we go over what each particular client’s letters should address. I can’t count how many times I’ve met with someone who lost his or her prior license appeal, at least in part, because their letters of support weren’t satisfactory to the Secretary of State, and then listened as they explained that they’re previous lawyer gave them example letters to follow, or, if they tried a “do-it-yourself” appeal (like an administrative review), that they found some examples online.
That’s not good enough.
“Example” letters should be used as part of a guide for what to include and not include in a letter, not as a template where someone changes the name, dates, and then moves a few words around. Doing that misses the whole point of what the letters are supposed to prove in the first place. Letter writers always need at least a little help in knowing what to write about and what not to write about (remember, no “good guy letters”), but that’s a far cry from just rewording something they’ve been given, or found online.
No matter who writes the letter, and no matter how good it seems, almost every last one needs correcting and revising. Here again, I can honestly repeat that more than 99% of all the letters we see need to be fixed up, and the few that don’t are usually what we call “supplemental letters,” and not part of the core of evidentiary letters we rely upon to win a case. In other words, they’re kind of like “extra” letters.
As much as all of this might not make sense now, it only serves to underscore why I require a person to come to my office and meet face-to-face, so we can explain things, in person. No client will ever leave my office confused, or unsure of what to do. I can’t afford that. I guarantee to win my cases, and I don’t earn my living spinning my wheels doing warranty work because things weren’t done right, or something was missed.
Before the evaluation and letters are ever filed with the Secretary of State, they get looked over, checked, and then double-checked again for quality. I have no temptation to take any short cuts, because my guarantee makes me as invested in the outcome of each case as my client, and requires me to do the whole thing all over again if we don’t win the first time around.
Once everything is filed, we wait for our hearing date.
The hearing is incredibly important. It’s what’s missing in an administrative review, and a big reason, beyond all the other issues of quality control, that I am not interested in an appeal by mail.
To be clear, I would NEVER skip a hearing.
The article before this one focused on why a person should never do a video hearing, and should instead appear live, and in-person, before a hearing officer. One of the key points of that article was that small nuances that can be important in assessing a person’s credibility get lost over a crappy video connection.
Not having any kind of hearing is a million times worse than that.
Perhaps the easiest way to clarify this is by pointing out that hearings are all about questions and answers; they are question and answer sessions. When no hearing takes place, then there is no way for a hearing officer to ask any questions. I can’t imagine many cases that are so clear cut and and so well-presented within the documents that the hearing officer deciding it looks over the paperwork and feels fine granting someone’s appeal without asking a single question.
In fact, I think trying to win a clearance this way is about the dumbest thing a person can do. However, since it’s free to try, and the only risk (although it can, sometimes, be a big risk) is that the person screws something up that is hard to fix the next time around, I say go for it, if you’re so inclined.
For my part, I’m way too busy to try and talk someone out of giving this a shot. Instead, it’s much easier for me to wait for those who try this to call me after things don’t work out.
Whatever else, and as good as I know myself to be (I do guarantee to win every case I take), as the previous article makes clear, I would never opt for a video hearing in one of my cases, much less try to win a license appeal case with NO hearing. I want to be able to ask my client questions, and I want the hearing officer to be able to ask his or her own questions, as well, and assess my client’s demeanor when answering.
This, of course, is predicated on the idea that the person has honestly quit drinking and is telling the truth. I’m only interested in handling license appeals for people who are genuinely sober and truthful, so this is never a problem among my client base. When I have that – meaning real sobriety – to work with, then I have everything I need to win.
Before my client and I ever get to a hearing, though, we’re going to prepare for it. The reason I put so much emphasis on the hearing prep helps underscore why I think an administrative appeal is equivalent to a shot in the dark: every hearing officer is different, and interested in different aspects of a case. Of course, they all ask a certain group of core questions, but each hearing officer is interested in different aspects of a person’s history and recovery, and this leads to very different lines of inquiry depending on who is deciding the case.
What this means, in practice, is that how I prepare a given client will be different, depending on which hearing officer is presiding over the matter. For example, one hearing officer may ask about the circumstances of the client’s DUI’s, while another couldn’t care less about any of that, and instead ask if anyone has ever commented on the person’s drinking. If a client is in AA, one hearing officer may ask how often he or she attends, another may ask if the person knows a specific step, or steps, while a third may inquire which step or steps the person finds most important.
Just to be clear, most of my clients are NOT in AA, and it is NOT necessary to win a license case.
Think about it; if I have to juggle the different areas of interest among the 5 hearing officers before whom I appear as they apply to the specific facts of each case, how in the heck is someone going to be able to provide information regarding those concerns without being there to answer any questions in the first place?
Imagine, for example, that Busy Bill has always dreamed of working for Company X, and, as it turns out, Company X will be opening a new location near Bill, and is holding a job fair. Bill sees an ad inviting anyone interested to come down, bring his or her resume, and meet the recruiters.
Do you think Bill should send his friend, Pete, to drop off his resume, or do you think that Bill should get off his a$$ and go there himself, in person?
There is your answer to any questions about filing an administrative review…
The grand takeaway here is that if you want to get a clearance of a Michigan hold, and you want to do it right and win the first time, you should come back here. For every reader out there who may doubt me, I wholeheartedly suggest you try an administrative review. If you’re one of the lucky few, then I’ll never hear from you. If you’re among the 3 out of 4 who loses, however, then give me a call afterwards so we can do this right.
If you need to obtain a clearance of a Michigan hold on your driving record and are looking for a lawyer, be a smart consumer and do your homework. Read around, then check around. All of my consultations are done over the phone, right when you call. We’re really friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions and explain things. You can reach us Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST) at 586-465-1980.