EXPERT WITNESS: Radical changes at the Secretary of State

By Michael G. Brock

Recently, a client of mine received this letter from the Secretary of State:

State of Michigan

Ruth Johnson, Secretary of State

Department of State

Lansing

November 5, 2012

Client Petitioner

12345 Downriver Ave

Lincoln Park, MI 48146-2962

RE: Request for Full Driving Privileges

Dear Ms. Petitioner:

Your license was previously restricted and you have requested an administrative review in an effort to regain full driving privileges. The Department is no longer offering Administrative Review's for Michigan residents. A Hearing in front of a Hearing Officer will be scheduled in this matter. You will receive notice of the date and time of that hearing once it is scheduled. If you fail to appear at the scheduled hearing you may not be eligible for another hearing for one year. If you do not wish to proceed with a hearing at this time, you must submit a written notice of withdrawal. When you are ready to proceed you will be required to submit evidence that is current at the time of that request. For further questions or information you may contact the Michigan Department of State. Michigan Department of State Administrative Hearings Section 1-888-S0S-MICH (1-888-767-6424)

ADMINISTRATIVE HEARINGS SECTION

po BOX 30196 * LANSING, MICHIGAN 48909-7696

www.Michigan.gov/sos * 1-888-767-6424

At the time my client received this letter there had been no changes to the State's DAAD website. The stated requirement at that time was that a Michigan resident petitioner for driver's license reinstatement would be eligible for an administrative review if he or she currently had a restricted license and had successfully completed a year of driving successfully with an interlock device. An out of state resident seeking to clear their Michigan license so they could get a license in another state would also be eligible for administrative review, and that is still the case.

The weekend of December 8-9, 2012 that changed, and the changes are significant. My part of the process, the SUBSTANCE USE DISORDERS EVALUATION, had not changed substantially, requesting essentially the same information that was required before the changes. These requirements have been discussed at length in previous articles and there is not reason to go back into them at this time.1

What has undergone substantial changes is the REQUEST FOR HEARING form, which is now under its own listing instead of being grouped together with the SUBSTANCE USE DISORDERS EVALUATION. It requires a marked increase in information compared to what was required of the client heretofore. Some of this information was previously being requested of the clients who were seeking an administrative review, but the extent of the information now required is extremely detailed, to the point that many of our semiliterate clients will not be able to discern what information is necessary or how to provide it on their own.

This could be good news for attorneys, who may expect to obtain more business as a result. I've talked to one lawyer who said that he would have to raise his rates as a result of the additional time involved in helping the client to fill out this paperwork. I've thought that I, too, would have to charge clients if they expected my help filling out what has gone from a one to an eight page form. Yes, that's right; the REQUEST FOR HEARING is now an eight page form!

The form requires the client to go into finite detail regarding the information I usually provide in my evaluations, which are six pages rather than the two pages provided for on the Secretary of State form. My experience in trying to get accurate information regarding the details of the person's substance abuse and recovery efforts has given me an understanding that many people really don't know how much of what drug they used and exactly what years they were using these substances. Therefore, the task of providing that information unassisted will be daunting, and only the most literate and legal-minded of our clients will be able to do so unassisted.

I say legal-minded because only those with a sense of how lawyers might look at this appeal process will be able to run this gauntlet successfully without creating possibly insurmountable problems for themselves.

Hearing officers already compare what is in the evaluation to what is in the accompanying letters and what is said by the client in his hearing in order to find discrepancies. These discrepancies are often the basis for denial, as you undoubtedly know if you have read a few of these denial letters. Now they have a much more extensive source of information provided by a client who is in many cases only semiliterate, and who, even if he were a professional with a graduate degree and a Boy Scout, would have a difficult time providing all the information asked for with complete authoritative accuracy. Therefore, many of his answers will be guesses, and he is likely to guess differently at different times and therefore more likely to be denied a license at his hearing.

Add to this the fact that clients are encouraged to fill out these forms online, and they may be sent in by the client without making a copy for his lawyer or the evaluator. Therefore, there is a good chance that nobody but the hearing officer will know what the client may have said to anyone else involved in the process. Good luck preparing your case!

Why exactly the DAAD has taken this hard line is anyone's guess. One attorney with whom I discussed it said that he did not believe the hearing officers were happy about clients being able to obtain their licenses early through sobriety courts without a hearing. Further, if they filed for an administrative review at the end of sobriety court, these clients might possibly obtain their full license without ever having had a hearing before a hearing officer.

If the hearing officers think that would be unfair to other license restoration appellants and a breach of the public trust, I would agree. The safety of our citizenry would dictate that a person have at least one face to face hearing before being granted unrestricted driving privileges.

But to require the appellant to jump through what for many will be impossible hoops to regain their driving privileges, despite how long they may have been sober/abstinent or the quality of that sobriety, is in my view unfair. I fear it will result in more people being permanently marginalized by a legal system whose judgments should be tempered by mercy. And while it is the responsibility of the Secretary of State DAAD hearing officers to keep the streets safe for our citizens, it is wrong to deny many or most people who have made this particular mistake to ever have a second chance to get their life on track.

It is what it is, however, and for the immediate future the rules have been changed by those with seemingly unlimited powers to make the process of driver's license restoration much more involved and difficult for both appellants and their attorneys.

To view the new SOS-257 Request for Hearing, and SOS-258, Substance Use Disorders Evaluation, go to the State of Michigan Web Page at http://www.michigan.gov/sos/0,4670,7-127-1627_8665_9074-29353--,00.html.

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1 If you would like to read more on the subject, a number of the articles are available at my website: michaelgbrock.com, or by googleing Michael G. Brock, Detroit Legal News, Oakland County Legal Press, or Macomb County Legal News.

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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.

Published: Wed, Dec 19, 2012

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