Born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey and raised in Maplewood, New Jersey, Sarokin is the son of a newspaperman who named him after Haddison 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.
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.
In 1978, Sarokin worked as the finance chairman for his friend, Bill Bradley, who was running for a U.S. Senate seat to represent New Jersey. After Bradley won, he recommended Sarokin for a federal judgeship. On September 28, 1979, President Carter nominated Sarokin to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey that had been vacated by Lawrence Whipple. The U.S. Senate confirmed Sarokin on October 31, 1979.
In 1985, Sarokin famously overturned the 1967 triple murder conviction of middleweight boxer Rubin Carter. Sarokin had ruled that Carter had not received a fair trial.
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.
In 1991, Sarokin famously ruled that a homeless man could not be barred from a public library in Morristown, New Jersey because of his odor. That order eventually was overturned.
In early 1996, Sarokin sought to retire and 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.
In a speech in April 1996, presidential candidate Bob Dole cited Sarokin as one of six 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, M. Blane Michael, Leonie Brinkema and Raymond Jackson.
On June 5, 1996, Sarokin announced that he would resign outright from the Third Circuit, effective July 31, 1996. 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."
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.
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.
In 2000, after a movie came out starring Denzel Washington about Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, Sarokin told the Newark Star-Ledger in an article that appeared on February 10, 2000 that "After 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.