The Driver’s License Restoration Appeal Process in Michigan – Getting Back on the Road – Part 5

In Part 4 of this series, we concluded our overview of the documents that must be submitted when a License Appeal is filed. In this fifth part, we’ll examine what happens when a Hearing is requested, and how one should prepare for the big day.

Once the Substance Abuse Evaluation and the Letters of Support have been checked, and re-checked, and everything is in order, the whole packet is sent to the Secretary of State’s Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD) in Lansing. In my Office, this is done by fax.

Car-Keysplease1.jpgOut-of-state people can request either what’s called an “Administrative Review,” meaning essentially an “Appeal by Mail,” or they can (and should) request an actual live, as in “conducted by a Hearing Officer” Hearing. Like those who live in Michigan, the Hearing can (and again, should be) live, and in-person, or it can be done at any Secretary of State Branch Office that has a video terminal.

Those who live in-state MUST go through a live Hearing, but it can either be done by video, or it can be done in-person, by requesting that it be scheduled at one of the 3 DAAD Offices (Grand Rapids, Lansing and Livonia) where the Hearing Officers are physically stationed. In my Practice, I have EVERY case I handle set for a live, in-person Hearing at the Livonia Branch of the DAAD. There are 5 Hearing Officers there, and I am in front of each of them regularly.

This, to me, is very important, and likely accounts, at least in part, for the success I have in winning License Appeals, and allows me to guarantee that I will win any Appeal I accept the first time, or I will go back, without additional Fee, until I do. We’ll get to that.

I have noted before that I DO NOT believe in, nor will I ever even consider doing a video Hearing. Beyond the fact that the video equipment used by the State is older than dirt (the “video terminal” is an old, tube-style TV set with a big, antiquated and clumsy “web cam” hooked up to it), the simple fact is that appearing in person has numerous benefits, some of which are just beyond description.

Before we review some of those benefits, let me point out again that, recently, the Secretary of State opened a video terminal about 4 minutes from my Office. The Livonia Branch of the DAAD is about an hour from my Office, yet it has never crossed my mind to save the time and just do the Hearing by video at the much closer and more convenient location. I am such a firm believer in conducting these Hearings in-person that saving an additional hour on the road to personally appear isn’t even a consideration. I take these cases to win, and, as I have repeatedly observed, if you’re going to do this right, there simply are no shortcuts.

And let me be clear. These “video” Hearings aren’t Skype-quality conferences. The sound is awful (I often hear a video Hearing in an adjoining Hearing Officer’s Hearing Room, through the walls, and they sound terrible), and you just lose a lot in a flickering, grainy picture.

Often, there is a sincerity about a person’s Recovery that you can see in their face, at least when they’re actually in front of you. That’s lost in an “analog” video feed. With a camera pointed at someone’s head, you lose the benefit of reading body language. If a person is, really and truly Sober, they want all the nuances of the truth of their Recovery to be seen. Since I’m not interested in Representing anyone who is not, really and truly Sober, I won’t be tied in with some scammer who has anything to hide. My Clients want the state to know the truth about their transformation from drinker to non-drinker.

Beyond that, if a person has any additional evidence to submit, or if I notice that the Hearing Officer didn’t receive any part of the documentation we sent to Lansing (fax transmissions aren’t perfect, after all), I can simply hand it over in a live Hearing. If I’m sitting miles away, in some video room, that can’t be done.

Finally, when assessing someone, we naturally look into their eyes. Facial expressions and eye contact are key, non-verbal cues when we communicate with another person. This is pretty much lost in a choppy, dull video feed. Remember, we’re not talking Skype here, we’re talking web cams, circa 1998.

Again, I go back to the fact that I will gladly drive an extra hour, each way, because I believe so strongly in the benefit of conducting the Hearing live, and in-person. That should say enough.

Once the Request for Hearing and required documents have been filed in Lansing, and my Office has notified them to set the matter for a live Hearing in Livonia, we’ll can only sit back and wait a few weeks to find out when the Hearing date has been scheduled. For me, the when isn’t really important; I’ll be there.

Most important in the Notice of Hearing is the identity of the Hearing Officer to whom the case has been assigned. As I mentioned before, there are 5 different Hearing Officers in Livonia, and each one his or her own unique way of conducting a License Appeal Hearing.

To be clear, there is a certain “core” group of questions that every Hearing Officer will ask. This “list” of questions doesn’t really change, no matter who conducts the Hearing. However, each Hearing Officer has his or her own unique and particular area or areas of concern, and that depends largely on the facts presented in any case.

For example, a Hearing Officer I have nicknamed “The Judge” will almost always ask anyone who claims that they are currently going to AA a few program-specific questions, including asking them if they know what a particular step is, and, if so, to restate it. If someone appears before this Hearing Office and they do NOT claim current AA attendance, he won’t be asking any of those questions, but will ask, amongst other things, why they stopped going to AA, and what they took from the time they spent in the program.

If a person who claims they still go to AA has their Hearing scheduled before the Hearing Officer I have nicknamed “The Spiritual, or ‘Essence’ Lady,” she will usually NOT ask them to repeat any of the steps by number, but will instead ask them to talk about a step, or steps that they have recently discussed at a meeting, or that are particularly important to their Recovery.

In the case of someone who does not go to AA, the “Spiritual Lady” will instead ask a person about their personal plan for Recovery and sustained Sobriety.

Thus, “properly” preparing for a Hearing means not only knowing the Hearing Officer, but also knowing how they approach any given case. While there are any number of things that can impact a case, the 3 biggest “categories” of differences involve someone who:

  1. Is currently attending AA
  2. Used to go to AA, but no longer attends, and
  3. Never went to AA, or only went to a few meetings.

Other factors, such as a mental health diagnosis, like anxiety disorder, bi-polar disorder, or depression, can also impact how a Hearing Officer will conduct the Hearing. The Hearing Officer I have nicknamed “The Doctor” is FAR more concerned about these things than other Hearing Officers. Thus, if a Client suffers from controlled depression, he will dig into that far deeper than will any of the other Hearing Officers, and preparing for Hearing in front of him will be far different than would be the case if the matter were scheduled before any of the other 4 Hearing Officers.

The same holds true for almost any past use of drugs. “The Doctor” will not only get into past illicit drug use, he’ll focus on any prescription drug use. Often, if the Client has a prescription for anything beyond blood pressure or heart medication, it is necessary to get an explanatory letter from the person’s physician about that, and may be necessary to have that letter reviewed by the Evaluator.

“The Judge” is big into past illicit drug use. If he senses anything beyond the youthful experimentation with marijuana (and “experimentation” and “abuse” are terms open to interpretation), he will always look for a “poly-substance” (meaning more than 1 substance) Diagnosis, even if that “Diagnosis” is “No Diagnosis,” and there’s nothing there.

That’s hardly all there is to preparing for the Hearing, however.

Understandably, people are nervous. They know that this is the big day. They understand that if they lose, it means another year bumming rides.

Yet, down to a person, all of my Clients really have little to worry about. I point out to them, as we begin our preparation, that we’ve already submitted good documentation, and that all they really need to do is go in and tell the truth. While this might be a huge problem for someone who is not really and truly Sober, it should not be for someone who has made the decision to remain alcohol-free for life.

Before I begin speaking with my Client in preparation for the actual Hearing, I will review all the documentary evidence submitted in their case. I have to know what the Letters of Support say, and I need to know that pretty much by memory. I have to know how they’re described in the Substance Abuse Evaluation, and how that relates to how they’re portrayed in the various Letters of Support.

Then, I can help them gear up for the actual Hearing.

I will always advise the Client to likewise review their Substance Abuse Evaluation and their Letters of Support. This will allow us to take how others describe them into account as we prepare for the Hearing.

I have 2 options for the Client as the Hearing day approaches:

  1. Come into the Office and meet with me personally to prepare, or
  2. Do a phone-prep, usually the night before the actual Hearing.

I do the phone-preps at night because, as I speak with my Client, I DO NOT want to have any distractions. When I’m on the phone with my Client and preparing for an upcoming Hearing, they are the ONLY person in the world to me.

Normally, I prefer to do everything in person, but there really is nothing to be gained by dragging the Client into the Office in order to prepare for the Hearing. In the final analysis, it’s a matter of convenience, personal preference, and scheduling. I probably do about 98% of my “preps” over the phone, so my track record of success supports the proposition that this step can be done successfully by phone.

However it happens, the “prep” session usually takes about an hour. Sometimes, I can wrap it all up in 45 minutes, other times, it might take an hour and 15 minutes, but an hour to do this right is typical.

When all is said and done, my Client should feel confident, if not still a bit it nervous, as we walk into the Hearing Room. They should feel good about the fact that we’re simply going to go in and tell the story of their Recovery, even if they had never thought about that process of going from drinker to non-drinker as a “story” until we first met.

Preparing for the Hearing is as important as any other step in the License Restoration process. While I am aware that some Offices will go over some typical questions that are often asked at a License Hearing, I have found that the most important aspect to properly preparing for a License Appeal Hearing is to take the unique facts of the Client’s case and filter them through the eyes of the particular Hearing Officer who will be conducting that Hearing.

In Part 6, we will pick up by examining what happens at the actual Hearing. Part of that is something I go over with the Client as we “prep” for the Hearing but is more relevant to the discussion of the conduct of the Hearing itself, rather than this discussion about preparing for the Hearing, so we’ll save that part of our discussion for next time.