Shame on you (!!), subpoena-issuing international arbitrators sitting in Dallas, Texas. Here in NYC, where we have wrestled, maybe not to the ground but mightily, with the problem of arbitral subpoenas, we are reading about your case (Matter of Arbitration Between Tang Energy Group Ltd. and Catic USA, 2015 WL 4692459 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 6, 2015), and asking ourselves: “How ‘Bout Them Cowboys??!!“
Dear colleagues, if a party in your case wants a subpoena for a non-party witness located in San Francisco — even if he is a recognized international arbitration lawyer in San Francisco — then take your hearts, go to San Francisco, and pack carefully for the return trip. Why would you think the Federal Arbitration Act would provide power to haul in a distant non-party witness for an arbitration hearing in Dallas when the federal district court in the same locale clearly could not? Surely the “in the same manner…” language in FAA Section 7 means this. (If the lawyer-witness is within the control of a party to the arbitration, as one side seems to argue, by reason of an attorney-client relationship, then why issue a subpoena? His appearance could be directed with the risk of an adverse inference if he does not appear).
Perhaps, Dallas-seated colleagues, you wonder whether Section 7 permits you, or one of you, to wander off to SFO, when the parties have agreed to arbitrate in Dallas? It is a fair question, but if the FAA clearly does not permit the witness to be forced by subpoena to come to you in Dallas, while the FAA does (post Rule 45 amendments) permit you to issue a subpoena to the witness in SFO, then traveling to SFO to hear the witness (or getting everyone to agree to to a video conference, on the basis that you could make that trip) seems like the way to go! After all, don’t your arbitration rules provide (as most international ones do) that the arbitrators may convene a hearing anywhere to hear a witness, despite the agreement on (and without effect upon) the seat of the arbitration?
We hope there is still time for this to be fixed by the sua sponte issuance of an amended subpoena. As matters stood by reason of the decision of the Magistrate Judge in SFO (the case cited herein), the party that sought the subpoena is required to move to compel compliance in the federal district court in Dallas — a motion doomed to failure because the witness has the same right as under Rule 45 to be compelled to attend a testimonial proceeding only if it is held closer to home.
Your Commentator takes note that the AAA has organized a CLE program for arbitrators whose title asks rhetorically if arbitral subpoenas are worth the paper they are written on. The partial answer, I suggest, is this: If arbitrators systematically issue the subpoena as requested by the party, and thereby expose themselves and the process to the errors that counsel may make in regard to enforceability of the subpoena, then the answer to the AAA’s rhetorical question may, unfortunately, avoidably, and altogether too often, be “no.”