In my role as a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, I have written hundreds of articles with detailed information about the license appeal process. Presumably, that’s why you’re here. I want to make this article interesting, and the idea recently occurred to me to look at the steps of a license restoration case in reverse, from last to first, rather that sequentially, from first to last. After all it’s the end result of a driver’s license restoration or clearance appeal that you’re interested in, right? In my practice, I guarantee that when I take a license clearance or restoration case, I will win it, so I figured, why not look back from the moment you slip that valid license back into your wallet to the time, like now, when you wonder if and how you can you win it back, and what’s all involved? We’ll break this article into 2 parts in order to keep each manageable.
You find out you’ve won your license appeal when you get a letter from the Michigan Secretary of State (SOS) indicating that the hearing officer assigned to your case from the Administrative Hearing Section (AHS) has granted your appeal. Congratulations, you’ve won your license back! In addition to formal order granting your appeal, if you’re a Michigan resident, you will receive information about the restrictions that apply your new license and instructions about what you need to do to get the ignition interlock unit installed. You’ll be given a list of companies for this (I include a discount coupon in the folder I give a client at our first meeting for Nationwide Interlock, one of my favorite providers), and informed that you must go and have the unit installed on whatever vehicle you’ll be driving (it does NOT have to be registered to you) and bring proof of that installation back to an SOS branch office in order for your license to be issued. Those who no longer live in Michigan will receive a “clearance” allowing them to go to the DMV in their home state and finally get (or, in some cases, renew) that license.
The notice that you won your appeal usually arrives within 2 to 4 weeks after your actual appeal hearing. I am a strong believer in holding a live (as opposed to a video) hearing. There are 3 AHS hearing locations in Michigan (Livonia, Lansing and Grand Rapids) where live hearings are conducted. Video hearings can be scheduled at most SOS branch offices, but I will only present my cases live, and in person. No matter the convenience, I will not allow any of my cases to be presented over a grainy, poor sounding webcam-like feed. Because my office is here in the Detroit area (Mt. Clemens), all of my cases are scheduled locally, at the Livonia (Metropolitan Detroit) branch. Hearings are scheduled on the hour (9,10 and 11 am, and 1, 2, 3 and sometimes 4 pm) and always conclude well within that hour, meaning that the hearing starts promptly at the scheduled time.
Contrary to what you might at first think, the hearing itself is not some kind of “all or nothing” proposition. In fact, in a very recent article, I examined this topic as well as why my “prep session” with a client the evening before the actual hearing is so important. We’ll skip rehashing that here, other than to note that each and every client of mine walks into the hearing room as relaxed as can be because he or she knows everything that’s going to take place and just about every question that’s going to be asked, both by me and the hearing officer. The key here is, and always must be, that we are going into the hearing to tell the truth.
As we work our way backward, it would be a grand omission on my part not to observe that the preparation for the hearing is every bit as, if not more important that the actual hearing itself. Good outcomes are always the result of good and thorough preparation. There are a million ways to describe this, but consider a football game: about an hour of play each week follows days upon days of practice. Boxers prepare for months on end to step into a ring with a maximum of 36 minutes of actual combat. This is one area where I see not only the success (guaranteed, no less) of my approach, but the flaw in those who don’t follow suit. Nothing makes me shake my head more that sitting in the AHS waiting room and watching some lawyer walk in a few minutes before the hearing and then want to “go over a few things” with his or her client. Talk about too little too late…
The hearing date is set and notice sent out after my office files a request with the state in Lansing. The request itself is a formal, written form that is filed along with certain (but not necessarily all) of the evidence in your case. By rule, the request for hearing must be filed with a current substance abuse evaluation and your letters of support, along with another administrative, multi-page form that one of my assistants will complete as she goes over it, line-by-line, with the client, at our first meeting. For Michigan residents who have already spent a year on an interlock and a restricted license and are seeking a full license and removal of the interlock, a “final report” from the interlock company must also be filed along with all the other required evidence.
There is a lot to be done before my office will actually file a case with the SOS. The substance abuse evaluation must be checked over, and the letters of support, having been edited, must also be reviewed, as well. Not only that, but these important evidentiary submissions must be crosschecked against each other. Evidence either helps your case or hurts your case, and the goal of our evidence is to submit as close to a winning appeal on paper as possible. This means that when we show up for your hearing, it becomes more about confirming that you really are the person described in your evaluation and letters of support than anything else. If you show up and are “that” person, then you win. Care, preparation and redundancy aren’t special qualities here, they’re minimum, required actions and skills necessary to insure a winning case. It’s this attention to detail that allows me to provide a win guarantee.
The letters of support are really a huge task. To begin with, I provide a “template” letter for my client’s reference, although plenty of people come to their first meeting with some letters already written. No matter what, and you can pretty much take this to the bank, over 99% of all letters I ever see need a lot of correcting and editing before they’re good enough to be filed with the SOS. This editing is really my job, and it eats up a lot of the time I spend on each case. The flip side is that the client doesn’t have to stress out over whether a letter is good, or good enough, or anything like that. After all, are you hiring a lawyer to win your license back, or just file the documents you prepare, go to the hearing with you, and hope for the best?
About the most common mistake I see with the letters is that so many turn out to be what a colleague of mine calls “good guy letters,” meaning that the letter goes on and on about how good the person is, how tough it’s been for him or her to get by without a license, and how and why the person deserves to drive again. Every single word like that is completely useless and of no help whatsoever. By contrast, you can be the meanest rat on the planet, and your letters can say so, but if you’re letters convey the relevant testimonial evidence that they must, they’ll help. Making sure they do just that is my job.
Any final editing of the letters needs to be done by cross-referencing them with both my own “substance abuse evaluation checklist” form and the actual substance abuse evaluation that is ultimately completed by the evaluator. The same also goes for the substance abuse evaluation, as well; it must be crosschecked against the letters of support and my own checklist. Everything, in this sense, needs to be cross-referenced against everything else. And to be clear, this isn’t just some kind of sales talk. For me, this actually involves, in each and every case, sitting down with the file and pulling out these documents and physically going over them. Sure, I could do a lot more cases and get them done a lot more quickly if I didn’t do this, but my clients pay a premium for the kind of careful attention that allows me to guarantee a win in every case I take, and that guarantee arises precisely because I put this kind of time into each and every case to the point that when I show up at the hearing with my client, I have his or her case memorized. I’m every bit as invested in winning the case the first time as my client, and I make my money getting it right the first time around, not having to come back next year to do “warranty work.”
We’ll break off here. In part 2, we’ll pick up by looking at what I call the “foundation” of a license appeal, the substance abuse evaluation. We’ll continue our “backwards” examination right up to the point of your last drink, and see how your first day sober began the last days of your not driving and the countdown to the day you finally get back on the road.