As Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyers, my team and I handle well over 200 driver’s license appeal matters every year. The substance use evaluation (often mistakenly called a “substance abuse evaluation”) is a required part of every restoration and clearance case, and having literally worked with thousands of them, we know what makes an evaluation good, and what kind of information it should (and should not) contain. In this article, we’ll look at the absolutely critical role of the substance use evaluation (SUE) in license appeal cases.
A lot of people who ultimately hire us do so after having either lost a “do-it-yourself” appeal, or after having lost with some lawyer who didn’t specifically concentrate in this area of the law, like our firm does. We guarantee to win every case we take, but in order to do that, we also make sure that we only accept cases that can be made into winners. Accordingly, one of the first things we do when anyone calls us after having previously lost is to carefully screen him or her, and, if his or her case seems promising, then obtain and review the Secretary of State’s order denying their case.
Very often, those orders cite the evaluation that was filed as a key reason for the losing decision. The simple fact is that a good evaluation is necessary in order to win To be sure, there is a lot that goes into a proper SUE. Among other things, it must always be accurate, complete, favorable, and, of course, legally sufficient. It’s basically a requirement that the evaluator not only has experience doing them for driver’s license appeal cases, but has also worked closely with driver’s license restoration lawyers in order to know exactly what to include within the document.
This is why our firm only uses 2 such evaluators: One whose office is close to ours, and another, located on the other side of town. When we send one our clients to either of them, we always know that the substance use evaluation will be done correctly, and also that we’ll be having quite a bit of back and forth communication with them about the case in order to make sure that it’s good enough for us to rely upon it as the foundation of a winning case.
Our communication with the evaluator isn’t undertaken with any kind of intention to try and make the evaluation sound better, but rather with the goal of making it more accurate. The Michigan Secretary of State expects a substance use evaluation form to accurately provide all the information requested thereon, and even the smallest error or omission can be a big problem and completely derail a case.
To ensure things are done right, our firm meets with each client before he or she undergoes the evaluation. At that time, we’ll assemble all the documentation necessary, and fill out our own proprietary checklist to make sure we provide ALL the relevant and necessary information to the evaluator.
Even with all of the information my team and I provide, the evaluator will still have questions. That’s a good thing because if there wasn’t that kind of follow up, it would indicate a lack of the kind of painstaking attention to detail that’s necessary to get an evaluation “right.”
It never ceases to amaze me when someone tells us that their previous lawyer either told them to “go get” an evaluation, or simply referred them to some evaluator, without also having met first met with the client. I can’t imagine sending someone for an evaluation without first preparing him or her for it, as well as going over the license appeal process in general, and then putting together a package of information about the client to be used by the evaluator.
Moreover, when someone comes to us after having used some other lawyer and then lost, we often find the evaluation cited as a reason for their denial. Of course, we can’t help but wonder why that lawyer didn’t find and fix that problem before he or she ever filed the case?
Not to be indelicate about it, but you pay a driver’s license restoration lawyer to get everything right and then file it, not just file it first and then find out after the fact it wasn’t right.
Within the packet of information we provide to the evaluator, and in addition to our “substance use evaluation checklist” form, my team and I will also include any other documents we feel the evaluator should have. As noted above, it is imperative to make sure nothing gets left out of this critical and foundational form.
This is important enough to repeat: Even leaving out the smallest detail in an evaluation can create a huge problem and cause a case to be denied.
We know this because, as I pointed out at the outset of this piece, a lot of the people we represent come to us after having lost a “do-it-yourself” license appeal, or having having blown their money some lawyer who screwed things up and failed. Part of our job is to review their prior case and analyze why they lost. Not to sound like a broken record, but problems with the evaluation are one of the main reasons people wind up losing.
Over the course of handling thousands of driver’s license restoration cases, my team and I have read more evaluations than anyone, with the sole exception of the Michigan Secretary of State hearing officers themselves. Obviously, by reading someone’s previous evaluation along with the opinion and order denying their case, we get the benefit of hindsight, and that, as the old saying goes, is “always 20-20.”
Nevertheless, the simple fact is that such a perspective allows us to see exactly what the hearing officer found to be wrong with a case, and why he or she denied it. No matter what, it’s always better to learn from someone else’s mistakes, and my team and I have had countless opportunities to do just that.
Enough, in fact, to be able to guarantee to win every restoration and clearance appeal case we take.
This idea of learning from the mistakes of another is a key point, and is something that everyone in our firm regularly shares with our evaluator. When you think about it, no matter how good someone may be as a substance abuse counselor, unless he or she gets direct and regular feedback from a driver’s license restoration lawyer about how an evaluation will be or was interpreted by the hearing officer in any given case, then they’re basically left without direction, and have no ability to improve or refine their work in the future.
In practice, once most evaluators complete the state’s SUE form, they never hear anything more about their work.
Do you think many lawyers call the evaluator after losing a case to discuss what wasn’t done properly, either with the evaluation, or with some other aspect of the appeal?
On the flip side, if someone wins, do you think anyone contacts the evaluator to go over what was done correctly?
My team and I do – all the time…
In fact, my team and I have contact with our main evaluator almost every single day, and often multiple times per day. As I sit here writing this on a Sunday, there are 4 emails from her from Friday night (the last one coming in after 10 p.m.) about things we need to address with her on Monday morning.
We have taken her to numerous license appeal hearings, NOT as a witness, or to give testimony, but rather as an observer, to see how the hearing officers use the evaluation, how they analyze the information provided within it, and how license appeals get done.
We’ll stop here for now, and pick up again in part 2.