H. Lee Sarokin, a federal judge who acquitted boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and in a landmark case famously said tobacco companies were complicit in a “huge” conspiracy to cover up of the dangers of smoking, died in California, news outlets reported on Friday. He is 94 years old.
Sarokin died Tuesday in La Jolla, a San Diego beach community where he and his wife lived in retirement, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
Sarokin had pulmonary fibrosis and other illnesses, his wife, Margie Sarokin, told the paper.
Haddon Lee Sarokin is a New Jersey-born graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School. He was appointed to a federal judgeship by former President Jimmy Carter and served on the district court of New Jersey from 1979 to 1994 and the court of appeals from 1994 to 1996.
In 1985, Sarokin overturned the convictions of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and John Artis, two Black men wrongfully convicted of murdering three white men. Sarokin ruled that their prosecution was based “on an appeal to racism rather than reason, concealment rather than disclosure.”
The decision stood after the US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal.
Carter’s innocence was championed by celebrities and was the basis of a 1975 song by Bob Dylan.
Sarokin told the Union-Tribune in 2014 that Carter called him every year on November 7, the anniversary of the ruling.
In 1988, Sarokin also presided over a landmark liability case against tobacco companies. Sarokin’s pre-trial rulings paved the way for corporate records to be submitted as evidence. When the company’s lawyers asked Sarokin to dismiss the case in their favor, he refused, saying the evidence showed the tobacco industry colluded “vast in its scope, insidious in its intent and disastrous in its consequences.” this.”
The case resulted in a jury awarding $400,000 to the estate of Rose Cipollone, who died after decades of smoking.
An appeals court overturned the ruling and dismissed Sarokin from a second similar case, saying some of Sarokin’s comments suggested bias against tobacco manufacturers, which he denied. However, the documents in the case helped pave the way for a wave of similar cases brought by state attorneys in 1998.
Sarokin has issued about 2,500 decisions over his career, including ruling that a homeless man could not be barred from a public library because of his smell.
“He wasn’t afraid to say what he thought,” his wife said.
In retirement, Sarokin is a regular contributor to HuffPost and has written a dozen plays with social justice and civil rights themes staged by the regional North Coast Repertory Theater.
Besides his wife, Sarokin has five children and 11 grandchildren.