H. Lee Sarokin

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H. Lee Sarokin
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
In office
October 5, 1994 – July 31, 1996
Appointed by Bill Clinton
Preceded by Seat established by 104 Stat. 5089
Succeeded by Maryanne Trump Barry
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey
In office
November 2, 1979 – October 5, 1994
Appointed by Jimmy Carter
Preceded by Lawrence Aloysius Whipple
Succeeded by Katharine Sweeney Hayden
Personal details
Born Haddon Lee Sarokin
(1928-11-25) November 25, 1928 (age 88)
Perth Amboy, New Jersey
Education Dartmouth College A.B.
Harvard Law School LL.B.

Haddon Lee Sarokin (born November 25, 1928) is a former United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and a former United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Early life and education[edit]

Sarokin was born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey and raised in Maplewood, New Jersey. He is the son of a newspaperman who named him after Haddon Ivins, who had been the editor of the Hudson Dispatch. "It's a dreadful name, which I dropped," Sarokin told the New York Times in 1985.[1] Sarokin earned an Artium Baccalaureus degree from Dartmouth College in 1950 and a Bachelor of Laws from Harvard Law School in 1953.[2]

Private practice[edit]

Sarokin worked in private practice in Newark, New Jersey from 1955 until 1979. He also concurrently served as an assistant counsel for Union County, New Jersey, from 1959 until 1965.[2]

Work as a U.S. District judge[edit]

In 1978, Sarokin worked as the finance chairman for his friend Bill Bradley, who was running for a United States Senate seat to represent New Jersey. After Bradley won, he recommended Sarokin for a federal judgeship.[1] On September 28, 1979, President Jimmy Carter nominated Sarokin to a seat on the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey that had been vacated by Lawrence Aloysius Whipple. The Senate confirmed Sarokin on October 31, 1979.[2] He received his commission on November 2, 1979. His service terminated on October 5, 1994 due to elevation to the Third Circuit.

In 1985, Sarokin famously overturned the 1966 triple murder conviction of former middleweight boxer Rubin Carter resulting in Carter's release and a granting of a writ of habeas corpus to the former middleweight boxer. Sarokin had ruled that Carter had not received a fair trial as the prosecution had been based on 'racism rather than reason' and 'concealment rather than disclosure'.[3]

In 1988, Sarokin presided over a landmark cigarette liability lawsuit that resulted in a $400,000 payment to the estate of Rose Cipollone, who died in 1984 after smoking for 40 years. Although the case was reversed on appeal, it was the first cash award ever in a case involving a death from smoking.[4]

In 1991, Sarokin ruled that a homeless man could not be barred from a public library in Morristown, New Jersey because of his odor.[5][6] That order eventually was overturned.

Third Circuit career[edit]

On May 5, 1994, President Bill Clinton nominated Sarokin to a newly created seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. On October 4, 1994, the Senate voted 63-35 to confirm Sarokin to the seat on the Third Circuit.[7] He received his commission on October 5, 1994.

In early 1996, Sarokin sought to assume senior status, which means a reduced caseload. As part of shifting to senior status, Sarokin asked to move his chambers from New Jersey to California to be closer to his children. On April 24, 1996, an 11-member council of the Third Circuit denied Sarokin's request, citing federal guidelines relating to judicial office space.[8]

In a speech in April 1996, presidential candidate Bob Dole cited Sarokin as one of four federal appellate and district judges that Clinton had appointed to the federal courts that Dole had deemed to be liberal activist judges. The others were Harold Baer, Jr., Rosemary Barkett, and Leonie Brinkema.[9]

On June 5, 1996, Sarokin announced that he would retire outright from the Third Circuit, effective July 31, 1996.[5] Sarokin cited his fear that his opinions from the bench might be used politically. "It is apparent that there are those who have decided to 'Willie Hortonize' the Federal judiciary, and that I am to be one of their prime targets," he wrote in a letter to President Clinton. "In the current political campaign, enforcement of constitutional rights is equated with being soft on crime and indeed, even causing it."[5]

In a separate letter to colleagues, Sarokin denied that his decision to retire had had anything to do with the court's decision not to allow him to move his chambers to California.[5]


Just a few weeks before retiring from the bench, Sarokin purchased a house in Rancho Santa Fe, California, where he had chosen to live in retirement.[10]

In late 1999, after the movie The Hurricane came out starring Denzel Washington about Rubin Carter, Sarokin told the Newark Star-Ledger in an article that appeared on February 10, 2000, that "[a]fter reviewing the record [in 1985], I had my doubts that Carter and [co-defendant John] Artis were guilty. That's been confirmed by my appearances with Carter. If he is guilty, he's the greatest actor in the world and should win an Academy Award, not Denzel Washington," Sarokin told the paper.[citation needed]


External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Lawrence Aloysius Whipple
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey
Succeeded by
Katharine Sweeney Hayden
Preceded by
Seat established by 104 Stat. 5089
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
Succeeded by
Maryanne Trump Barry