We often greet the beginning of a new year by noting and celebrating certain landmarks from the year prior: the best movies, top television shows, or highest selling albums. It may feel tempting to expand this type of exercise to the legal field, naming the most newsworthy accomplishments or changes in the law, perhaps the largest awards of civil damages, the most infamous criminal cases, or the most important precedents upheld (or overturned) in 2021. I make this comparison not to make light of the law but to point out how it differs from media or pop culture—it cannot be simply categorized by what is most popular or what is most commonly known and appreciated by the public.
The Fourth Department regularly issues decisions and opinions, many of which will be reported on by local and sometimes national media. The press often takes an interest in what they see as a novel or unusual decision, which is therefore deemed worthy of additional attention or scrutiny. Such cases may involve unusually large damages awards or particularly notorious crimes, and these reports are the way that the majority of the public will view the Court’s work, through the prism of a handful of “newsworthy” cases that they read about in the paper.