Image: Illustration of two boys inside a jail.
Conroe, April 14 – There’s a classic game theory situation that helps predict the likely outcome in the pending criminal indictments of Precinct 2 Montgomery County Commissioner Charlie Riley and County Judge Craig Doyal. (For the sake of ease in the analysis, we’ll leave local political boss Marc Davenport out of the discussion, although including him would give a new dimension – literally – to the matrix.) Game theorists have known of the situation as the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” ever since Princeton Mathematics Profession Albert Tucker (whom movie-goers know better as John Nash’s doctoral thesis advisor from the movie A Beautiful Mind). Tucker referred to a game theory situation which researchers at RAND Corporation developed in the early 1950s.
Craig and Charlie’s situation
First, however, it’s important to summarize Riley’s and Doyal’s situations:
- Riley and Doyal are either fully vested or close to fully-vested in their County government pensions. Riley receives $168,000 per year while his wife Deanne receives another $58,000 per year, thanks to the job Riley created for her and then placed her in during two Commissioners Court meetings in late 2016 after the incoming Sheriff-Elect Rand Henderson made clear that Deanne would need to find a new job from her position as secretary to Sheriff Tommy Gage. Doyal receives about $174,000 per year as County Judge.
- The Montgomery County Grand Jury indicted Riley and Doyal for conspiracy to circumvent the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA), an alleged violation of Section 551.143 of the Texas Government Code. The Grand Jury handed down the indictments in June, 2016. On February 7, 2018, the Ninth Court of Appeals reinstated those indictments after a visiting trial judge dismissed the cases.
- Riley and Doyal have filed “petitions for discretionary review” with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to hear an appeal from the Court of Appeals. It’s unlikely the Court of Criminal Appeals will hear their cases. It’s likely the Court of Criminal Appeals will deny the petitions by early summer.
- The criminal indictments involve Class B misdemeanors, which carry the following penalties:(1) a fine of not less than $100 or more than $500;(2) confinement in the county jail for not less than one month or more than six months; or(3) both the fine and confinement.
- For Riley and Doyal, however, there’s an even greater potential hammer. As public officials, if they’re convicted of violating TOMA, they are likely subject to removal from office for “official misconduct.” They would probably lose their pensions as a result of such a removal. Liberty County Commissioner Mike McCarty suffered removal from office on April 24, 2017, after a Liberty County Jury found him guilty of a Class B misdemeanor that involved official misconduct. That removal from office was far greater punishment than McCarty received otherwise.
- Doyal has already lost re-election in the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election. His government salary will end on December 31, 2018, although he’ll be entitled to his pension, if he retires without a conviction.
- Riley faces a stiff challenge from former Comal County Commissioner and renowned conservative author Greg Parker in the May 22, 2018, Republican Runoff Election. Riley only received 40% of the vote in the Primary Election and bested Parker by a mere 89 votes out of more than 15,000 cast.
Classic formulation of the Prisoner’s Dilemma
So, let’s step back for a brief moment and talk about the theory of the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” as Professor Tucker explained it in his classic treatise on game theory in 1951. Tucker, quite frankly, was not a very good writer. Therefore, The Golden Hammer has revised Professor Tucker’s classic formulation merely for ease of understanding.
“The Prisoner’s Dilemma”: There are two suspects, A and B, who are gang members whom the police arrest for grand theft, a felony. A and B are in separate cells and cannot communicate with each other. The police don’t have sufficient evidence to find the culprit, so they question A and B separately in their cells. If one of them, A, confesses and the other, B, does not confess, then B will serve 10 years in prison, while A will go free for fingering B, and vice versa. If both A and B refuse to confess, they’ll each go to prison for just 1 year since the police can only get convictions for lesser included offenses. If they both confess and finger each other, however, they’ll both get 5 years in prison.
Human nature suggests that A and B will cooperate with the police separately for two reasons. First, they’ll fear the possibility that the other will cooperate and they’ll pull the maximum 10 year sentence, so they’ll cooperate with the hope of getting the best deal and walking free. Second, basic human nature and numerous studies, particularly those of Professor Nehemiah Geva at Texas A&M University and of Colin Camerer at University of California at Berkeley, have revealed that basic human nature is to cooperate especially with those who are in positions of authority such as the police.
In the classic formulation of the “Prisoner’s Dilemma,” both A and B cooperate, rat each other out, and draw 5 year sentences in prison.
Do Craig and Charlie ultimately cooperate with each other?
It does seem that Craig Doyal and Charlie Riley work together on a lot of projects closely. Remember, that Riley was Doyal’s Operations Manager when Doyal was Precinct 2 County Commissioner. But there’s still been a lot of bad blood between them. Riley and Doyal never fully recovered from their major disagreement over Riley’s decision to terminate the employment of Melissa Goetz in 2013. Riley holds Doyal responsible for the candidacy of Brian Dawson in 2018, because Dawson has remained a close friend of Doyal’s. (Riley may want to rethink that resentment, because the electoral numbers show that Parker might very well have won a head to head race against Riley in the March 6 Primary Election, if Dawson had not been in the race.)
Confidential sources close to Doyal have confirmed that Doyal remains very upset with Riley for switching against him the second time the 20% homestead exemption came to a vote in March, 2017. Riley had voted against the 20% homestead exemption in February, 2017, so Doyal thought he could count on Riley the second time as well. Riley shocked him and voted with Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark and Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack.
Clearly, there is already a lot of tension between Doyal and Riley, even though they usually vote with each other in the Commissioners Court.
With that said, here is the possible scenario for Riley and Doyal if or when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denies their petitions for discretionary review and sends their case back to the Montgomery County District Court for a jury trial.
Doyal probably would prefer to use his remaining campaign funds for lobbying after he leaves office rather than paying a criminal defense attorney. Rusty Hardin doesn’t come cheap. Doyal would most certainly not want to risk his pension after working as a County employee for approximately three decades. Several sources, on condition of anonymity, have confirmed that the Houston-Galveston Area Council has begun discussions with Doyal to employ him there after he leaves office, but that Doyal has indicated that he’s planning to start his own private marketing and lobbying firm representing half a dozen or so of his closest engineering firm friends.
Whether Riley wins or loses the Republican Runoff Election, he’ll face removal from office and loss of his pension, if he’s convicted for conspiracy to violate TOMA. Especially if Riley loses the runoff, he’ll also face the possibility that he’ll lose his pension. Riley may find future employment far more difficult than Doyal. Riley certainly won’t enjoy a job in the private sector making anything close to the exorbitant salaries that he and his wife currently draw from the taxpayers.
As a result, there’s a lot of pressure on Riley and Doyal to race to the Courthouse and cut a deal with Special Prosecutor Christopher Downey and probably to be the first one that does.
Here’s the full “Prisoner’s Dilemma” matrix. The potential sentences are theoretical but reflect the strong incentives for each of them to cooperate with the law enforcement authorities.
Particularly if Riley loses the runoff, and if the Court of Criminal Appeals refuses to hear their appeals, Riley and Doyal will have strong incentives to “win the race” to the Special Prosecutor’s Office. If Riley wins, and if the Court of Criminal Appeals refuses to hear their appeals, Riley will have an even stronger incentive to “win that race.”