In part 1 of this article, we began looking at some of the more important facets of the substance use evaluation relative to it’s role in a Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance case. I pointed out that a license appeal must be denied if the evaluation’s prognosis is either “poor,” “guarded” or “fair,” and noted that a “good” prognosis is almost always better than “excellent.” We then moved on to explore the role of the evaluator, observing that the evaluator must be honest, good and thorough. The lawyer must be all those things, as well. Although I don’t actually complete it, I have an important role in the substance use evaluation, as well.
For my part, I meet with every client for a first 3-hour meeting before they have their evaluation completed, and I fill out a form of my own creation called a “substance abuse evaluation checklist” that covers everything the evaluator must and should go over. This form is probably somewhat redundant when presented to an evaluator as good as mine, but it’s that attention to detail that’s part of how and why I guarantee to win every case I take. The key requirement for me to take a case is that a person must have honestly quit drinking; this sobriety requirement is non-negotiable with either me or the state. From there, everything must be done right, and I make sure it is.
In a very real way, “preparing” a client for the substance use evaluation means sketching out his or her recovery story. No matter how you cut it, there is a story behind every person’s decision to get sober and transformation from drinker to non-drinker. Few people have probably ever thought of it in this way, so my job is to pull out all the details. No one quits drinking because it’s working out so well. What was the real motivation to stop? How did you make it work? Right after a person decides to become alcohol-free, there tends to be a void in his or her life, or at least social life. Weekends spent drinking or hanging out with the drinking friends are gone; what did you do, in place of that? Inevitably, you will start doing different things, and grow as a person. For most people, getting sober means regaining the trust and respect of those who really matter.
This is not always a linear story. Some people relapse. Others quit drugs before they quit drinking, or vice-versa. There are starts and stops. Most people find that, on the whole, the trajectory of their lives rises considerably, and after a while, their life is a million times better sober than it was when they were drinking. My role is to explore that, and help shape is a story. Don’t worry, we’re not writing a biography here, but for many folks, this marks the first time they’ve ever examined their lives like this, and in this situation, it’s fulfilling and self-affirming. As much as the evaluation itself must contemplate the good, the bad, and the ugly, I’ll make sure we go over everything so that it’s covered in the best way possible.
The client has a responsibility here, as well. Relevant information should never be withheld from the evaluator. This is part of the reason I spend 3 hours with a new client at our first meeting and complete my checklist – to insure that everything that needs to be covered is brought out and properly explained. Remember, I have pointed out that the substance use evaluation form itself can, at least to a substance abuse counselor, appear easy to complete, although it’s not. There are questions the Michigan Secretary of State AHS hearing officers routinely ask that one would never know about just by looking at the form. The evaluator has to know this, but ultimately, responsibility for making sure all of this is covered falls squarely on the lawyer’s shoulders. Whatever else, I’m the only one guaranteeing that you’ll win your license appeal, so, as the old saying goes, “the buck stops here.”
For example, although the form clearly asks about medication assisted substance abuse treatment (meaning things like Antabuse or Suboxone), it’s does not clearly request information about other kinds of “risky” medications other than the date of last use of any controlled substances. In just about every case where a person uses any kind of potentially addictive or mind or mood-altering medication, this will not only have to be examined by the evaluator, but a letter for the person’s doctor should be submitted, as well. The kind of detail such a letter must contain is unusual for a physician to provide, so I make sure that in these cases, I write to the doctor and explicitly outline what is needed and why. A general letter to the effect that “I’m So-and-So’s doctor and prescribe medication X” is not good enough.
Let’s take this a bit further: I ask about medication when I meet with a client, as does my evaluator. Imagine, though, that Back Pain Bobby has a prescription for and occasionally takes Vicodin, but only “as needed.” Assume that Bobby may not be the sharpest tool in the the shed, so when asked by some less experienced evaluator if he’s “on” any medication, and because he hasn’t used any Vicodin for a while, replies “no.” Fast forward to Bobby’s license hearing: the hearing officer asks if he’s ever used any prescription medicine within the last several years, and that’s when Bobby discloses his “as needed” Vicodin use.
Because none of this was disclosed on the evaluation, and because he didn’t have a proper letter from his doctor, Bobby’s appeal will be denied. A “proper” letter, for starters, would indicate that the treating physician knows Bobby is in recovery from a drinking problem, has no alternative way of treating Bobby’s pain flare-ups other than with Vicodin, and that he or she also checks to make sure Bobby isn’t abusing the medication by either getting refills too quickly or obtaining the drug elsewhere.
My evaluator will always make those kinds of inquiries, even without the added security of my substance abuse evaluation checklist. But my checklist will always be there, just in case. That’s what being thorough is all about.
At the end of the day, this all comes back to integrity. When a hearing officer reviews a substance use evaluation, he or she must believe that it is an accurate and comprehensive assessment of the person whose case is before them. It must appear to be honest on its face. The prognosis needs to be favorable (i.e., good), but nothing more, unless that’s clearly warranted. An evaluation of this caliber is always the product of collaborative effort between the lawyer and the evaluator, but also requires a client who is candid and forthright, as well. For all the things that can be right about an evaluation, the hearing officer’s job is to find anything wrong with it. My job is to make sure there isn’t anything wrong to be found,
As with most aspects of the license appeal process, there is, of course, more to the story than we’ve been able to cover here. I have examined many other facets of the evaluation and the evaluator in some of my other driver’s license restoration articles on this blog. I’d direct the reader to explore there. The evaluation is just one part of the license appeal process, and all these parts work together. An evaluation is meaningless without a sober client, but even someone with long-term sobriety and a great evaluation will be denied without proper letters of support, or not having been thoroughly prepared for his or her actual appeal hearing.
The main point I want to make in this piece is that the evaluation is complex and important. This is not the kind of thing where some lawyer can just tell a client to go out and get one done, or merely provide a list of names and numbers and leave the client to it. Believe me, I have enough work to keep me busy long after I’m dead, so if I didn’t think it was necessary to meet with every new client for about 3 hours before he or she is directed to have the evaluation completed by _my_ evaluator, I could easily do something else with my time. However, I often point out that there are no shortcuts to doing things right. When all is said and done, every case I take is guaranteed to win, and I make my living winning these cases the first time around, not having to do “warranty work.”
If you need to win back your Michigan driver’s license or obtain a clearance of Michigan’s hold on your driving record, I can do that, guaranteed. You should be a good consumer, do your homework, and read around. When you’re ready to get things underway, start asking questions. All of my consultations are done over the phone, right when you call, and we can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., at 586-465-1980 (EST). We’re here to help.