Live hearing or videoconference?

By Michael G. Brock

From time to time clients will ask me where they will go for their Driver Assessment and Appeal Division hearing and if they will have a face to face or a videoconference hearing.

My understanding is that anyone from Trenton south is sent to Monroe for a video hearing, and those north of Trenton in the tri-county area go to a live hearing in Livonia, while people on the west side of the state go to Grand Rapids. However, attorneys, and presumably in pro per clients as well, can request a face to face hearing. While I’m not aware of any data regarding the results of video versus in-person hearings, from the feedback I get from lawyers it might be wise to request a face to face.

The only additional paperwork that needs to be filed for the video hearing is the affidavit, but I have my clients fill that out regardless, and if they want to insist on a face to face, I tell them to write it in. The State has clarified in the new Substance Use Evaluation form that it may be used in lieu of the other materials that duplicate this information as a Request for Hearing for in-state petitioners, but this additional form contains the DAAD address and allows them to specify what they want. It constitutes just one form, plus the support letters, for which the client is responsible.

One advantage that clients had in the past regarding in-person hearings was that they were allowed to present evidence on the day of the hearing, though it was technically supposed to be submitted ahead of time. According to information sent to me by one of the attorneys with whom I work, this will no longer be allowed as of 4/1/2013. All information must be sent at the time of the Request for Hearing or a hearing will not be scheduled.

However, there may still be other reasons to request an in-person hearing. Both clients and attorneys report more satisfaction with the face to face process than they do with the videoconference. One of the obvious problems with video is the possibility of problems with the equipment. But even if the equipment works as it’s supposed to, it’s a more impersonal process than in-person and some subtleties are bound to be lost in transmission. Sales people sometimes say that what is important is not the deal the customer gets, but the deal he thinks he gets. This may be a way of saying the same thing; the client and/or his or her attorney may feel they’ve been better heard or understood if the interview is in-person.

It seems probable that the hearing officer gets a better sense of the person he or she is interviewing during a face to face hearing, and that they get a better sense of the hearing officer. The interaction is more nuanced. It may be easier to accept rejection if a person feels he has been heard. And it seems likely that it would be easier to say no to someone in a videoconference than it would face to face. I hang up on telemarketers; I would probably be more tactful if the sales person were standing in front of me. The answer might be the same, but one is easier than the other.

Attorneys tell me that the videoconferences are shorter, which says something. They also tell me there is not as much flow. The rhythm of human interaction is a subtle but powerful force, and may ultimately decide who you wind up married to and which candidate gets elected in a close race. Even talking to someone you know well on the phone is a very different thing than being in the same room. The conversation is often more stilted because the body language is missing. There are fewer clues to pick up on.

In a face to face hearing there is an opportunity to develop a rapport that may not exist in a videoconference. It is also probably easier to gauge whether or not one has made a good impression.

I have never attended one of these hearings myself, but my gut instinct is that that I would be better of with an in-person hearing, and that I would request it. I recall that one of my philosophy professors once said that intuition is a series of rapid, subconscious calculations, and as such they may be right or wrong. The intuitive sense that one should minimize one’s offenses in order to look better to the hearing officer is clearly counter-productive, as anyone connected with this process knows. But the intuition that tells us it is better to meet someone face to face who will be deciding our future, verses via teleconference, may be something that we would be wise to heed.

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Michael G. Brock, MA, LLP, LMSW, is a forensic mental health professional in private practice at Counseling and Evaluation Services in Wyandotte, Michigan. He has worked in the mental health field since 1974, and has been in full-time private practice since 1985. The majority of his practice in recent years relates to driver license restoration and substance abuse evaluation. He may be contacted at Michael G. Brock, Counseling and Evaluation Services, 2514 Biddle, Wyandotte, 48192; (313) 802-0863, fax/phone (734) 692-1082; e-mail, michaelgbrock@ comcast.net; website, michaelgbrock.com.

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