Michigan License Restoration Appeals – Who is your Hearing Officer? – Part 2

In part 1 of this article, I began my updated examination of the Michigan Secretary of State Administrative Hearing Office (AHS) hearing officers who staff the Livonia hearing office, and who decide all the Michigan driver’s license restoration and clearance appeals that I file, as well as the seemingly ever-growing number of ignition interlock violations that come about. In my role as a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, I appear before these same people day-in and day-out, and I have come to know how each perceives case evidence like the substance abuse evaluation and the letters of support. The same piece of such evidence may be interpreted differently by one hearing officer over another, and this is something you better know before your hearing. Part of the reason I provide a guarantee to win every case I take is that I always start with a genuinely sober client whose recovery is exactly what is contemplated as the “meat and potatoes” of a license appeal, and I wind up at the hearing conducted by a hearing officer whose idiosyncrasies I know well.

5661262_orig.jpgThis is important stuff, but as I hope the reader gleans, it’s certainly second, or subordinate, to your being genuinely sober. I know these hearing officers as well as anyone, and I daresay I see them far more than just about any other lawyer, but none of that matters a bit if a person has not honestly adopted an alcohol-free lifestyle. I mention this because for all the time I’ve spent detailing how I know the hearing officers, they have come to know me, as well. There is no single case, and no amount of money that would tempt me to ruin my reputation for honesty in their eyes. It is often and wisely noted that it takes a lifetime to build and maintain a good reputation, but it only takes one stupid thing to destroy it. I strive to be the best lawyer I can be, but I’d much rather be known and trusted as honest, yet of only average skill, than I’d ever want to be known as incredibly talented, but not trustworthy. Not all of my license restoration or clearance appeal cases are perfect, but none of them is bogus, or based upon false information, and that’s why I have my guarantee. We covered 2 of the hearing officers in the first part of this article; now, let’s look at the other 3.

The New Nice Guy. This hearing officer is also a new to the Livonia lineup since my 2011 article, and I struggled to find a better description for him than “The New Nice Guy,” especially because the hearing officer nicknamed “The Nice Guy” in the earlier article is still there, and still nice, but to overlook The New Nice Guy’s natural kindness would be like trying to ignore the horn on a unicorn. Before becoming a lawyer, this hearing officer was a police officer in the Metro-Detroit area. This means he knows how to handle people, question people, and size them up, and he knows how to do that as a matter of instinct, and without hesitation. Consistently friendly and pleasant, it doesn’t take long to realize that he doesn’t miss a thing – ever. I pride myself on being perceptive, but I realize that I’m lucky just to be perceptive enough to see how much more perceptive he is. It’s kind of like having Sherlock Holmes as a hearing officer, except The New Nice Guy has a big heart. Perhaps because of his police training, his questions are never asked just to fill time, and are always directly responsive to the case before him. What’s obvious through his questions is that they cut to the heart of the matter and probe whether the person really is sober or not. In that sense, it’s almost like he has a built-in truth meter. This is obviously good for anyone who has genuinely quit drinking, but likely a deal breaker for anyone who is not. One of his more interesting traits is the ability to get to the core of an issue with only a few questions. Again, this isn’t trouble for anyone who is really sober, but I can only imagine that it’s sheer torture for anyone trying to pull a fast one. Still, for all of his skill, it is obvious that The New Nice Guy puts his heart into trying to discover the truth, and do the right thing.

The Nice Guy. The original nice guy is still deciding cases, and is as nice as ever. About 2 years ago, however, he announced that he’d prefer if the lawyers would do most of the questioning in a license appeal hearing. He explained that he felt too responsible for the outcome of the cases assigned to him, and felt his role should be to decide it, rather than present it, and thereby either prove or disprove it. Although this was a somewhat radical departure from how hearings had been conducted up to that time, his decision made sense and was perfectly logical. After all, if a lawyer prepares a case and submits the evidence in a license appeal, shouldn’t he or she present the case, as well, just as he or she would in court? Because the Nice Guy is such a nice guy, he didn’t throw the lawyers to the wolves. Although I had the advantage of having heard his questions innumerable times and therefore knew pretty much all of them by memory, this hearing officer never intended to penalize anyone for not asking something that he finds important. Accordingly, in just about every hearing, he’ll follow up with any number of questions of his own. It is important to point out that since he decided to let the lawyers ask most of the questions at the hearing, the 2 newer hearing officers (The Listening Lady and the The New Nice Guy), who have subsequently come to Livonia conduct their hearings the same way. When it does come time for The Nice Guy to follow up with his questions, it is clear that he has listened intently to every word that has been spoken up to then. He does not miss ANY details, and he asks questions that go to the precise meaning of what’s been said. He has a keen eye (and ear) for assessing a person’s credibility, and not only do his questions probe any inconsistencies, but also those things that just don’t add up. He may be nice as pie, but he’s also tough as nails. More than just a good hearing officer, however, I have come to know him as a genuinely good person, as well.

The Spiritual or Essence Lady. Like “The Judge,” this hearing officer is highly intelligent and a very astute jurist. She holds multiple degrees in several different disciplines and probably knows something about everything and a lot more about anything than almost everyone else, yet she still manages to be a genuinely nice person. She, like “The Judge,” does most of the questioning during the hearing. If I was to rename her, I might call her something like “The Friendly Appellate Judge,” because she has a rather concise list of questions she asks that are a marvel of effective simplicity. Like the other hearing officers, she doesn’t miss a thing, but when the person she’s addressing does, or otherwise skips over a complete response to her question, she will follow up and make clear that it must be answered. As clear and direct as her inquiries are, she is every bit as much interested in what’s in a person’s heart as she is in the technical details of the person’s answer. In other words, she probes to try and get a look at what’s really inside a person’s heart, and if the person carries the real spirit or essence of sobriety. She can be rather flexible in her approach to license restoration and clearance appeal cases, seemingly more interested in the truth of a person’s commitment to sobriety than whether or not he or she gets all the answers right, but she is very tough in interlock violation cases, where she looks far more to the technical and legal aspects of the evidence. To be perfectly candid, it is surprising to find a person of such intelligence and learning to be so down to earth and have such a good heart. When I have a license restoration or clearance appeal hearing in front of her, I always remind my clients that we’re going in to tell the truth, and that’s because this hearing officer is good at her job, she’ll figure that out, and we’ll be just fine.

As I pointed out in the 2011 article, it is impossible to really describe any of these hearing officers in a single paragraph. They are living, breathing people, and like everyone else, have their own likes, dislikes and preferences. Every single day, each one of us experiences the world in a way that continually shapes how we interact with it; these hearing officers are no different. In sports, it is a given that you should know your opponent. Skillful trial lawyers want to know all about the Judge who will be presiding over their case, even if the final decision regarding the case is in the hands of a jury. In a license appeal, where the final and ultimate decision is made by the hearing officer alone, knowing everything about his or her approach to these cases in general, and your case in particular, is a basic precondition to success. Of course, the rules are the rules, and there are certain fundamental issues, questions and proofs that apply in every case. However, the way I’d prepare a client for one hearing officer is likely to be different, and perhaps very different, than if the case was being decided by a different hearing officer. This is something that you absolutely need your lawyer to know, and know well, and for which you rely upon him or her.

There are no shortcuts to winning a license appeal. My first meeting with a new client takes about 3 hours. I have to get to know you and the story of how and why you ultimately decided to quit drinking, and what keeps you sober. Maybe you’ve never thought of all that as a “story,” but it is, and I’ll help you sketch it out. I believe that knowing who will be deciding your case and how that person interprets the evidence submitted in a license restoration or clearance appeal case is critical to winning. To anyone who is genuinely sober and has previously tried and lost a license appeal on his or her own, or with some other lawyer, the whole system can seem unfair. If you don’t know the rules and how the people deciding these cases interpret those rules, a loss can seem like a slap in the face, and that you were simply not believed. Knowledge, by itself, is not power, but the correct use of that knowledge sure is. Let me leave the reader with an example from the DUI world:

A few weeks ago, I was representing a client who had picked up 2 DUI charges almost simultaneously. I was called after he got released from jail, but in the meantime, the Judge in the first case released him on what’s called a “SCRAM tether,” which is an ankle bracelet that detects alcohol. The second Judge ordered that, as a condition of his release, he take a breath test every morning. In the week before we went to court, my client had apparently figured (or may have been told) that since he was wearing the alcohol tether, there really was no need to go take a separate breath test every day. When we appeared before that second Judge, he asked my client why he had not been breath testing, and when my client attempted to explain that he had been and still was wearing the alcohol tether, the Judge replied that he didn’t care, and that he personally did not believe in SCRAM (alcohol) tethers. Most Judges would probably not have felt the same, but the point is that everyone is different, and when it comes to the person deciding your case, you better know exactly how.

If you have honestly quit drinking, I’m here to help, no matter where in the world you may live. Do your homework and then pick up the phone and call around. My office is open Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST), and can be reached at 248-986-9700 or 586-465-1980. I’d like to help you experience the unsurpassed joy of regaining your license.