In part 1 of this article, I began my examination of why you should come back to Michigan to win the clearance of a Michigan “hold” on your driving record. If you now live out of state, the only other option is to file what’s called an “administrative review,” which is an appeal by mail with no hearing. I pointed out that at least 3 out of 4 of these appeals are denied, and wondered openly how many times those who eventually do win have tried before. I began by explaining that in addition to an actual hearing, the key reason for coming back (and hiring me) is that when I’m the lawyer, I control every aspect of the case, and nothing is left to chance. I made clear that it all starts with, and requires honest and genuine sobriety, meaning that you have quit drinking and are committed to an alcohol-free life. We then moved on to the substance use evaluation, which I characterized as “foundational” in a license appeal. Here, in part 2, we’ll pick up by looking at the other main pillar of evidence submitted in each case, the letters of support. From there, we’ll go on to examine how and why having a hearing is far superior to not.
When filing any kind of license appeal, you must also submit at least 3 letters of support (although we require 4 in my office) in addition to the substance use evaluation,. These support letters are also foundational to a license appeal (think of the evaluation and the letters as the “support beams”), and I review and edit every single one before it’s submitted. Each year, out of thousand or more letters I look over, only a handful aren’t substantially fixed up by me, and those are almost always letters that aren’t for primary support, like when a fellow AA member attests that a person attends meeting, or an employer who doesn’t fully know about a person’s past confirms that he or she is a valuable part of the work team. As I said, these letters don’t really count as “support,” but they are helpful as add-ons to the letter package.
At it’s simplest, a real support letter describes a person’s sobriety. Whatever else, the very last thing these should get into is any kind of “good guy” descriptions that fails to provide solid evidence of your sobriety or are otherwise not observational and testimonial in nature. The letters need to describe your commitment to sobriety, provide examples of it, as well as, depending on the knowledge and perspective of the writer, how you came to it, and, if possible, detail how you are different now that you don’t drink than you were before, when you did. Some letters, by the very nature (think: time frame) of the relationship between the subject and the writer may NOT be able to address this, but they can still be helpful in otherwise confirming that a person sticks to his or her commitment to remain sober.
If there’s one key thing about the letters, it’s that I take care of making sure they’re done right. This involves a lot of work for me, but here’s where I jump in with my red pen and exercise that “control” over things. I simply cannot let some person on the outside, who has no idea exactly what the letters need to say, be the one to decide what they will say. In other words, to be quality “evidence” to the hearing officer, I need to be the one to edit the letters so that they make the points that need to be made. Here, there is a world of difference between well-meaning and well done. Your letter writers may be well meaning, but that, by itself, won’t help win your license back. Well done, however, will.
Finally, we get to the hearing. An administrative review seeks a decision on the documents without a hearing, which is a lot like ordering a hamburger without the beef. The hearing is the opportunity for the hearing officer to ask questions and to clarify things about your case. There are always things that need to and will be asked. Hearings last about a half hour, and involve almost nothing but questions. For the life of me, I can’t even begin to imagine who thinks it’s a good idea to submit evidence and then not be available to answer any questions about it, given that there will be lots of them. Would you submit a resume for a job, and, if called for an interview, respond that you’d prefer the employer to just look over your resume instead of coming in to answer any questions? HELLO?!?! In this way, an administrative review is, in practice, about single the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of.
As it turns out, 3 of the 5 hearing officers in Livonia expect the lawyer to ask most, if not all of the questions to “develop” the case. The other 2 hearing officers in Livonia will ask a whole bunch of questions of their own in order to fill in the blanks, and these questions vary with the facts of each case. There is a story to your recovery, and the hearing is where we tell it, and make sure we confirm the information provided within your evaluation and letters of support. Often, enough, the material included in your evaluation and letters just naturally gives rise to questions. It’s actually quite odd for that NOT to happen. The hearing officers more or less expect the hearing to flesh out the details of the outline of your case created by the evaluation and letters.
Over the years, I have been offered my full fee many times to handle cases administratively. Of course, it would involve a lot less work for me to do it this way, but I have declined every time. I did one such case many years ago, and I won it, but after it was done, I said never again. Still, if you’re considering trying it this way, don’t let me talk you out of it. Go for it. Seriously.
Then call me next year.
Beyond the advantage of a live hearing, all of my cases are heard in the Livonia Office of Hearings and Appeals, where I know the idiosyncrasies of the 5 hearing officers there very well. Thus, when I prep my clients for the hearing, it’s not just some generic “get ready” session, but rather a targeted conference we’ll use to prepare for the specific hearing officer assigned to your case, and how the or she will evaluate the facts of that case. For example, the questions asked of Sober Sam by hearing officer #3 will be very different if Sam claims to be involved in AA than they will be if he does not go to AA meetings (most of my clients don’t). And all of those questions will be different if Sam’s case is assigned to hearing officer #1, or #2, or #4, or #5. Knowing what questions will be asked is important, but not being there to be asked in the first place is just plain stupid…
And so it circles back to control. As the lawyer handling – one might say “producing” the case – I have the advantage of controlling everything from the first impressions of the substance use evaluation, the letters of support, all the way to the final presentation at the hearing. This stands in very stark contrast to an administrative review where an out-of-state counselor completes a strange and unfamiliar Michigan Secretary of State form without any clue about what the state’s hearing officers are really looking for within it. Worse yet, that form then gets bundled with, amongst other things, several unedited (at least professionally unedited) letters of support and is thereafter shipped off to a hearing officer, who can’t ask a single question about anything, for a decision.
I mentioned earlier that I’d never try and dissuade someone from trying one of these do-it-yourself appeals by mail, and I meant that. Honestly, after having done this for as long as I have, and as busy as I am, it is just far easier to let someone try an administrative appeal on their own and then come to me when they give up. Whatever else, if you’re sober, I’ll get you back on the road, no matter how long it takes for you to find your way to my office.
Whether you want to do it right the first time and drive this year, rather than wait until next, or you’ve already tried and lost before, I can help. If you really have quit drinking, then you’ve got all I need to win your case. Anyone considering a license or clearance appeal should, of course, take the time to read around. This blog has more useful articles about every facet of the license restoration process than you can find everywhere else combined, but you shouldn’t take my word for it; do your own research. Check around. All of my consultation are confidential and done over the phone, right when you call. If you’re looking to hire a lawyer, we’re here to help, and my staff and I will be glad to answer your questions and explain the process in as much detail as you’d like. You can reach my office, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST) at 586-465-1980.