In this series, we are examining the 3 most common reasons for losing a Michigan driver’s license restoration appeal. In the previous article, we examined the critical role of the substance abuse evaluation, and how any shortcoming on that foundational document can effectively kill a license restoration case. In this installment, we’ll focus on the letters of support, and how not having them in proper “shape” can derail any license appeal. From the cases I see, problems with support letters are about the second most common reason for resulting in an order from a Michigan Secretary of State Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD) hearing officer denying a license reinstatement appeal.
While far from a scientific or statistical analysis, this overview is based upon my considerable experience handling (and winning) license reinstatement appeals. A large part of that experience involves taking on new clients who have tried (and lost) a prior license appeal before, either on their own, or with some lawyer whose experience and ability obviously came up short. Here, I should get one thing out of the way, even at the risk of sounding cocky: I guarantee that if I take your license appeal case, I will win it. The key (and completely non-negotiable) requirement here is that you must have really and truly stopped drinking. If you’re sober, and I take your case, you can count on winning back your driver’s license.
My experience winning Michigan license restoration appeals is essentially unmatched in terms of quantity or quality. I couldn’t provide a guarantee if all I brought to the table was hope and enthusiasm; I guarantee my results because I have the experience, knowledge and skill to do just that, but it all must start with a client who has gotten sober. For anyone who has actually done all the work to become sober, it is frustrating to the point of feeling like an insult to have your license appeal denied. Yet if all that was required to win your license back was just being sober, I’d need to find another line of work. Sobriety is the first requirement to win a license back, but the license appeal process is essentially governed by what I call “a million little rules.” Being “qualified” to win a license appeal is like being “qualified” for admission to medical school; there is still a lot of hard work to do to make it to the finish line.
Perhaps the most painful reality is that if your license appeal was denied because of problems with your letters of support, it is almost certainly the fault of your lawyer. If you didn’t have a lawyer, then (and I’m sorry if it sounds cold, but it’s the unvarnished truth) it’s your fault for playing lawyer. Making sure the support letters are consistent with the rest of the case is a critical part of my job. In fact, I take it so seriously that I don’t even begin to review any letters until I have I am in the proper frame of mind and have the time to sit down and look at a client’s entire file. There can be no “rush” here, because one small oversight can result in a hearing officer denying your appeal because your letters were not consistent.
Consistency, then, is an important element of the letters. Each letter must not only be consistent with itself, but consistent with the other letters, as well as the substance abuse evaluation and the rest of the evidence in your case. The larger goal of the letters of support is to provide a comprehensive look at a person’s abstinence from alcohol and sober lifestyle. Consistency is lost, however when the various letters don’t describe what is essentially the same picture, even from different perspectives.
Anyone who has taken the time to read my blog, particularly my driver’s license restoration articles, can see that I am rather generous with the information I provide. Indeed, I often provide a detailed, if not microscopic examination of the various facets of the driver’s license restoration process. Yet for all of that, I have published comparatively little about the letters of support. There are several reasons why I play it close to the vest on this subject, most of them strategic. Even so, I would be less than candid if I did not also admit that I’m not particularly interested in giving away all of my secrets, either…
It should not come as a surprise that other lawyers use the information I have put up to help with license appeal cases they have taken. In fact, it is not uncommon for my office to receive a call from a lawyer who is “stuck” on a certain point, and needs help. What can I do, be a jerk and refuse to help? Of course, I always try to be of assistance, but each of these calls winds up taking a lot more time than to just answer a few questions, because helping some lawyer get “unstuck” on something always involves having to explain a lot of other things, as well.
In a recent 2-part article, I pointed out that in the last several years (since about the time this blog has grown), there is an entire new crop of lawyer websites that try to cram some combination (or even all) of the words “drivers,” “license,” “restoration” and “lawyer” into their names or URL’s. The problem with these “Johnny come lately” operations is that none of them has any clinical understanding of the development, diagnosis and recovery from an alcohol problem, much less offers a guaranteed win, as I do.
For my part, I am formally involved in the University, post-graduate level study of alcohol and addiction issues. This takes years of classroom study, and tens upon tens of thousands of dollars, and reflects a commitment to my clients and my field of practice that is unparalleled, even by someone with a fancy website name. I guess what I’m saying is that those kinds of marketing slicksters can tap my knowledge to a point, but there are some things that don’t get revealed, and are just a part of the secret recipe. How I manage the letters of support is one of them.
The bottom line here is that the letters are of critical importance. In the final analysis, the letters must be helpful to your case. Among the biggest mistakes people make are submitting what a colleague of mine calls “good guy” letters. The state doesn’t care, at least in the context of a driver’s license appeal, that you are a good person.
The same holds true for how much you need a license. As one hearing officer said, “everybody needs a license.” The license restoration process isn’t about whether you need a license or not, it’s all about whether you meet the criteria to win an appeal. You must prove your abstinence and your commitment to remain abstinent, along with being able to demonstrate the tools you have acquired or developed to fulfill that commitment.
To help meet these requirements, I use a checklist completed with my client at our first meeting (that’s the meeting that lasts 3 hours) to make sure the letters we ultimately submit are legally adequate, consistent, favorable, helpful and relevant. And make no mistake about it; a letter has to be all of those things. Taking care of these details is my job. Remember, a license appeal is governed by what I call “a million little rules.” The letters of support have to make it through those rules without getting snagged. In the real world, helping you do that is a huge part of my job. Lots of times, people don’t know where to start. Whether you’ve got no clue, think you’ve got it all figured out, or fall somewhere in-between, I will take control of this for you. I will make sure your letters are consistent, and helpful and relevant. After all, I don’t guarantee a win by leaving anything to chance…
Often, I will meet a client who will tell me that his or her letters are really good, or they have already checked them over and finalized them, and then hand me notarized copies. Rarely, and I mean rarely, are the letters I get good ever enough to be submitted to the DAAD without editing. About the only exception to that is letters from fellow AA members, principally because of the narrow scope of evidence those letters can provide. AA people can attest to the fact that someone attends a particular meeting, and/or that a person shares while attending those meetings, but beyond that, unless the writer hangs out with the person outside of the meetings, he or she can’t really say much more. Even a sponsor, unless he or she is part of the person’s social circle, can’t do more than attest that the person is really “working” the program. Thus, AA letters have limited value, and, in my practice, are usually not submitted as a “primary” letter, although I think they are great to add in as “extras.”
The DAAD requires a minimum of 3 testimonial letters. I require at least 4, so that if one has to be “discounted” for some reason, then we still have 3 to meet the state’s minimum evidentiary requirement. Usually, I will not count an AA letter as one of the 4, but that can change, depending on the content of the letter and the relationship my client has with the letter writer. I have seen letters from a fellow AA member or sponsor who has become, in fact, part of the client’s social circle, and whose letter is good enough for me to include as a “primary” because the letter writer socializes with the person outside of meetings
To be clear, I am talking about AA letters here only as an example. The majority of my clients are NOT active or involved in AA when I win their license back, although many of them did attend meetings, at least briefly, at some point in their past. AA is absolutely not necessary to win a license restoration appeal, although it can be very helpful.
If a hearing officer denies a license appeal, he or she must clearly explain why. When it comes to denying an appeal for problems with the letters of support, the hearing officers usually make very clear what was wrong. To someone with either limited or no experience doing license appeals, learning why you were denied may prove enlightening, but it will not provide any real sense of direction about what to do next time. That’s where I come in.
If you’ve tried a license appeal before and things didn’t work out, I can help. If you’re really sober, and you’re ready to get back on the road, give my office a call. I’ll make sure that you become able to slip a valid driver’s license back into your wallet as soon as legally possible. It does not matter how smart or well educated you may be, or if all of your friends are brilliant writers. When it comes to letters of support, certain things must be stated clearly and specifically, while reference to other things, even with the best intentions, can be fatal to your case. I’ll make sure we get them right.