There are specific steps you must take to win back your Michigan driver’s license. As a driver’s license restoration lawyer, I have developed a system guaranteed to succeed in every case I take. A person must, however, be genuinely sober as a prerequisite to me accepting his or her case. Because the whole point of the license appeal process is to prove that a person has quit drinking for good, it’s not like I am not imposing any conditions beyond those mandated by the Michigan Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearing Section (the AHS – formerly known as the DAAD, and the DLAD before that), yet sometimes I wonder why this topic isn’t front and center with every lawyer who will accept money to file a license case. At any rate, this 2-part article will provide a summary overview of how I do license appeals in my office. It will, of course, take into account the formal state process, but my goal is to give the reader an idea of the way things work in my office.
Sobriety is everything to a Michigan clearance or restoration case. Proving sobriety is really the “meat and potatoes” of a license restoration or clearance case. Proving that you’re sober means showing not only that you have quit drinking, but that you also have the commitment and tools to stay quit and remain sober for life. In the previous article about license restorations, I pointed out that license appeals are hard because they are supposed to be hard; the main rule governing the process instructs the AHS hearing officer to NOT grant an appeal unless you prove, by what is defined as “clear and convincing evidence,” that your alcohol problem is under control (you’ve quit drinking) and that it is likely to remain under control (you are likely to never drink again). Anyone who is really sober knows that sobriety requires abstinence, but mere abstinence, by itself, is not sobriety. Real sobriety is a state of being and is a radical and better change from one’s drinking days. Sober people are content, grateful, and have a sense of genuine serenity about their lives and recovery.
It starts with a phone call to my office. We need to ask a few questions, first, to make sure a person is both eligible to file an appeal and that he or she meets the criteria to actually win. All of my consultations are done over the phone, right when you call. I have an incredibly great staff, but when someone hires me, they get me, and no one else, as their lawyer. I personally prepare and review every single one of my cases; I prepare each and every client for his or her hearing, and it’s me, and me alone, who shows up to conduct it. About half of my clients live in the local, Detroit area, while the other half come from out-of-state (or from another part of the state). For those that don’t live close by, we arrange for them to have their substance abuse evaluation completed immediately after they leave my office for our first meeting, so we can make the visit a “one and done.” That first meeting with a new client takes about 3 hours, with most of that time being spent preparing to have the evaluation completed. To do that, I make a copy of all the relevant documents and put together a “package” to give the evaluator, including a form of my own creation, called a “Substance Abuse Evaluation Checklist” that I fill out during our meeting. Local clients can simply call the evaluator after our meeting and set up an appointment for another day. Whether local or not, after spending over 3 hours in my office, my clients walk out knowing exactly what we’re doing, what’s going to happen, and when. They also leave with the comfort of a guarantee to win their license case and an understanding of why, given how the license appeal process works and how I do things, that should be expected.
The substance abuse evaluation (technically named a “substance use evaluation,” but called by everyone (including me) a “substance abuse evaluation”) is really the foundation of a clearance or restoration case. It is pretty much the only bit of objective evidence that addresses whether your alcohol problem is likely to remain under control, meaning the likelihood that you can remain alcohol-free. One of the biggest and most common mistakes less experienced lawyers make is not having a full hand in the evaluation process. Often, this results in a lawyer referring his or her client to an evaluator who is more “favorable” rather than objective. There is no shortage of evaluators who will make everything sound great, but the Secretary of State can sniff out that kind of baloney from a mile away. Just like me not bending on the sobriety thing, an evaluator must develop and then maintain a reputation for providing honest and objective assessments. It is no doubt hard for an evaluator to make an appointment with someone, spend an hour or more questioning that person and going over things, and to thereafter generate a report that isn’t favorable, but that’s what’s necessary if the evaluator is honest enough not to sell his or her integrity.
Most of my evaluations are done by a first-rate clinician whose office is just a few blocks from mine, and the other evaluators I use are all people with unsurpassed experience AND integrity. Even so, it is critical that the client understand what’s going to happen at the evaluation and the role that evaluation plays in his or her case. I couldn’t begin to imagine just “referring” a client to an evaluator without having that first, 3-hour meeting with him or her. For most people, it is during that meeting that he or she begins to see his or her journey from drinker to non-drinker as a kind of story, or recovery story. It is also during that meeting that I sometimes help “jog” a person’s memory, and in so doing, learn his or her story for myself, as well. Although it will be more relevant in a later part of our article, it is imperative that, as your lawyer, I can recall all of the facts of your case by memory alone. Sure, getting to know you and getting to know your case is important, but that’s far from enough; I need to actually memorize your case. I have my opportunity to do that as we go over a blank copy of the state’s substance abuse evaluation form (it’s actually called a substance use evaluation, but absolutely everyone says “abuse” rather than “use”) line-by-line (yes, we’ll go line-by-line) and fill out my “Substance Abuse Evaluation Checklist” form as we proceed. Not only will I get to know your case well, you’ll get to know it in ways you’ve never thought of before.
At the end of the day, the substance abuse evaluation must be both legally adequate and have a favorable prognosis (there are 5 check boxes on the form: poor, fair, guarded, good or excellent) regarding the likelihood that you’ll remain alcohol-free. A prognosis of poor, fair or guarded will automatically result in an appeal being denied. This is required by the rules. Remember, a person has to clearly and convincingly prove that he or she is likely to never drink again, and a prognosis that rates the chances of that at either poor, fair or guarded obviously falls short of that. On the other side of the spectrum, a prognosis of “excellent” can also be a liability, as well. Someone who has been sober for 17 years, has headed up a local AA group for the last 8 of them, has been the treasurer of that group, has outlived his or her first sponsor, has 2 or 3 sponsees of his or her own and who helps out at the annual 4th step retreat clearly deserves an “excellent” prognosis. By contrast, someone with 3 or 4 years of sobriety, no matter how enthusiastic about recovery he or she may be, should get a “good” prognosis, at best. More important, in the real world, “good” is good enough to win your license back, and is really perfect in most cases.
We’ll stop here for now, and pick up in part 2 with the letters of support that must also be filed to begin a driver’s license restoration or clearance appeal.