THE EXPERT WITNESS: The naked truth

By Michael G. Brock

Some people who do driver’s license evaluations for Secretary of State Administrative Hearing Section appeals say they are 99% successful, by which they are implying that their clients get their license back 99% of the time (I’m sure if you called them they would say that’s not what they mean). This is simply false advertising.  Nobody’s evaluation clients get their license back all the time, nor is it the function of the evaluator to advocate for their clients.

Some attorneys may advertise that they have a 99% or 100% success rate, but this is clearly different.  First of all, the attorney is the client’s advocate.  It is appropriate for legal counsel to view success as the client obtaining the license he or she is seeking.  They may also decide not to take the case to a hearing until they are certain of success.  I’m not sure if this makes the most sense for the most clients, but it is a possible approach and I’ve seen it practiced. 

If this attorney thinks the client needs another year of AA before he is ready, then he or she may wait a year before moving forward.  Moreover, he may also contract with the client to continue to represent him or her without charge until a license is obtained if the first appeal is not successful.  In this way he or she can honestly proclaim a near perfect record of success over the long haul.  The only failures would be those who dropped out after being denied once or twice.

However, what evaluators are supposed to be doing is an independent evaluation, which is unbiased and will help the hearing officer make an informed decision about whether or not to restore someone’s driving privileges.  He or she will take this evaluation into consideration along with other factors, and decide what they think is in the best interests of the people of this state. 

Some of the attorneys I work for have told me they are successful with my evals 95% of the time, but this of course presumes both a good evaluation and good legal representation.  Even with both of these factors on their side, there are some clients that cannot be saved from themselves.  In AA they describe these people as constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves: “There are such unfortunates.  They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way.” 

One recent client was repeatedly warned by both myself and his legal counsel that, while he might get away with lying about some things, lying about what is a matter of record is a sure prescription for failure.  None the less, he repeatedly gave his last arrest for DUI date when the hearing officer asked him several times for the last time he had driven a car.  Given that he had several arrests for driving without a license, his credibility was completely destroyed and he was predictably denied.  There is no cure for stupid. 

It is very important for clients to realize that the evaluator is not their advocate or their counselor.  The client should be trying to make the best impression he or she can on the evaluator, and to treat this evaluation as what it is—an interview that will produce evidence regarding the client’s substance abuse and recovery history and which will be discussed and taken into consideration at the hearing.  The client should not be confiding information he doesn’t want shared with the hearing officer.

Clients should also understand that the evaluation is a one-time event.  There is no reason for the client to be required to attend multiple visits.  It is presumed that the client is sober/abstinent at least a year and has done the necessary counseling and/or AA to establish and maintain their condition prior to scheduling the eval appointment.  If the evaluator believes they have not, they should tell the client up front, but if they are saying the client must complete therapy with them before they will do the eval, they are essentially engaged in a form of extortion. 

Moreover, the evaluator may also be expressing their bias in the report by recommending that the client needs more therapy or should go back to AA.  It may be their belief that no sobriety is safe unless they person remains in a 12-step program.  However, that bias sends the message to the hearing officer that this person is not ready to be trusted with a driver’s license.  If the evaluator expresses this belief, it is unlikely that the hearing officer will disagree and the client will probably be told to attend more meetings and come back in a year.

If I were an attorney I would prep my client before he goes for his evaluation—this is not a counseling appointment; both your sobriety and its quality are being assessed.  I would also have a specific evaluator whom I trust to do a capable job and would not take chances on those who do this as an ancillary part of their practice, or worse, those who are assigned these cases by the clinic they work for.  The process is too complicated to be trusted to anyone who does not stay up with the current changes. 

If the evaluator did a bad job, or made an unfavorable recommendation regarding my client, I would get another opinion.  He may have wasted his money on the first eval, but if he goes to the hearing with bad evidence, he has very little chance of prevailing.  Sober clients with a good evaluation have a good chance, and those who also have a good attorney have a great chance.  It’s a matter of controlling what you can and trusting the process to work.
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@; website,