In Part 1 of this series, we outlined what it takes to be eligible to file a License Appeal, and in Part 2, we examined the Substance Abuse Evaluation that must be filed as part of the documentary package that has to be submitted to the Michigan Secretary of State’s Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD) to begin a Michigan Driver’s License Restoration or Clearance Appeal. Here, in Part 3, we’ll talk about the Letters of Support that must also be filed, along with the Substance Abuse Evaluation, as part of that documentary package to begin a formal License Appeal.
The Letters of Support are really the hardest component of a License Appeal to describe, much less summarize. To simplify things, it is one of my primary responsibilities, as the Lawyer, to read, edit, revise (and perhaps even re-edit) the letters until they’re perfect. This means that I take what my Client gives me, and go from there. I am far less interested in someone handing me a letter that they think is “good to go” than I am that they just hand me something I can get to work on. I spend a lot of time working on the Letters of Support, so it’s just better that I begin with something, however imperfect, rather than wait for some “better effort.” I tell my Clients that their job is to get me some words on a sheet of paper, and I’ll take it from there.
There’s a reason for that. The Letters of Support play a vital role in a Michigan Driver’s License Appeal. In fact, problems with the Letters of Support are about the second most common reason a License Appeal is Denied. Frequently, someone who provides a Letter of Support lapses into writing a “good guy” letter about how good and kind the person for whom they’re writing it really is. Sometimes, the writer will point out how difficult it has been for the person to get around, or go to school, or keep a job, or whatever else they do, without the ability to drive.
None of this matters at all. To be blunt about it, no description of how nice you are, or how hard it’s been on you without a License matters a bit to the Secretary of State in a License Appeal case. Being a nice person, or having a tough time because you can’t drive could not matter less…
The Letters of Support have a very specific purpose, and that’s to provide verification of the legal requirement that the person prove, “by clear and convincing evidence,” that their “alcohol problem…is under control.” In other words, the Letters of Support have to help prove that a person has quit drinking. That’s it. Anything more is a waste of ink, and anything less is a waste of paper.
Another mistake I see rather often comes from the “helpful” letter writer. This kind of writer thinks they’re helping by describing the person as NOT having been a big drinker. Often, they deny having seen the person out of control with their drinking. Sometimes, they express surprise that the person had multiple DUI’s. In their minds, they think they’re creating a positive impression. In reality, they’re doing just the opposite.
To the DAAD, such a letter writer is either full of b.s., or else they are clueless or mistaken about who they’re writing the letter for. From the state’s point of view, if you’ve had your License Revoked for multiple DUI’s, you have a drinking problem, plain and simple. The License Appeal process focuses, more than anything else, on how you’ve conquered that problem. Having someone who is supposed to know you rather well write a letter minimizing what the state has already concluded is a serious problem just creates more problems…
Assembling the right kind of letters, and then making them “right” has to be part of a larger overall strategy. This is especially true in cases where some of the letter-writers may not have know the person back when they were drinking, or may only have known them for a much shorter period of time than the person has been abstinent from alcohol. This is often the case when someone moves out of state.
Moreover, the DAAD requires that the Letters of Support come from a “cross-section” of people. This means that a person cannot come forward with 4 letters just from people they live with, or with whom they work. Nor would 4 letters, all from other people with whom they play softball, be adequate. The state wants letters from family, friends, co-workers, fellow AA members (if applicable), neighbors, and so on.
Thus, when I review the Letters of Support, I not only edit them, and make corrections, but I’ll tell my Client that I think they got too many from one group, like family, and not enough from other sources. Likewise, if too many of the letters are from people who don’t actually physically see the person much anymore, I will advise the Client to get some from people with whom they actually have more direct contact, even if those writers don’t know as much as a relative who lives in another state. It’s a really a bit of a balancing act, and part and parcel of my job.
On top of all that, the Letters of Support have to be consistent with, or at least NOT INCONSISTENT with the information contained in the Substance Abuse Evaluation. In my case, I rely upon my Substance Abuse Evaluation Checklist form, and make sure both the Evaluation and the letters are consistent with it. This avoids any conflicts or problems. Yet many people do not realize that the state is going to look at these letters and find any lack of absolute consistency between them, or any other evidence in the case, as a lack of evidence that rises to the level of “clear and convincing.”
Knowing how the state is going to review the letters (their job, really, is to put them under the microscope, and then compare them against each other and against everything else) and having more than 2 decades of experience successfully editing them gives me an unparalleled edge in putting together a winning Appeal. In all honesty, I probably make substantial revisions to about 9 out of every 10 Letters of Support. It is the rare letter that escapes my red pen.
As I noted earlier, I spend a lot of time on the letters. The payoff, however (winning your License back), necessitates such an effort, and makes it worthwhile. I am reminded of a quote by United States Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who said “There is no such thing as good writing, only good re-writing.” In the history of this blog, I’ve never failed to re-write an article. That’s not to say some couldn’t use even more work, but it is absolutely necessary to edit and revise anything of any importance, and I can think of few writings that are nearly as important as those which play a key role in the success or failure of your License Appeal.
In Part 4, we’ll see how a final inspection is the last step before the Letters of Support, Substance Abuse Evaluation and any additional documentation is filed, and a Hearing requested.