Kelly Miles and Jonathan Tuggle grew up on the same street in Dalton.
Only one house separated theirs.
Even though they were neighbors and their families were friends, Miles and Tuggle barely knew each other. That’s because Miles is 13 years older than Tuggle.
But as adults, their paths have crossed in an unusual way. They’ve both served as chair of the State Bar of Georgia’s Family Law Section, one after the other. Miles passed the title to Tuggle earlier this year.
“It’s ironic. Out of all the family law attorneys — close to 2,000 of them — only one is the chair,” said Miles, a partner with the Gainesville law firm Smith, Gilliam, Williams & Miles. “For one of us to be chair and to pass the gavel to another as chair is just unheard of. It’s an honor itself to be chair, but to pass the gavel on to Jonathan was extremely special.”
The two say they are proud to tell people they are Daltonians who grew up on the same street.
“How many people can say that?” asked Tuggle, a founding partner of Atlanta-based Boyd, Collar, Nolen & Tuggle. “Georgia is a big state. Metro Atlanta is a big area. It just so happens the outgoing chair and the chair are from the same hometown, grew up on the same street. That’s a unique fact. We’re definitely proud of Dalton. It’s a great place to grow up. We both have great memories of Dalton. We like to promote that anytime we can.”
The chair is in charge of many duties designed to promote family law, including organizing continuing education programs, being in charge of meetings and overseeing several committees. Family law includes divorces, adoptions, custody and domestic violence cases.
Joseph Tuggle’s influence
The two accomplished attorneys share an influence in the legal world — Joseph Tuggle, Jonathan Tuggle’s father, who practiced family law in Dalton. He also served as the chair of the State Bar of Georgia’s Family Law Section for the 1996-1997 term. A professional state award is named for him within the organization as well. It is given to one attorney each year who exhibits the most professionalism and ethical conduct. He died in 1999. Jonathan Tuggle’s mother, Sue, still lives in Dalton.
“I knew his father, a very well-respected attorney,” said Miles, 54, a 1977 graduate of Dalton High School. “I knew him growing up. My parents (Erle and Kay Miles) would talk about what a good attorney he was, but they never had to use him. They’ve been married 55 years. As I started practicing family law I would go see Joe.”
Miles received her bachelor’s degree in political science and history from Mercy University where she also received her law degree.
“Having known Jonathan’s father better than I knew Jonathan, I can tell you his father would be so proud of him,” she said. “To see how much they thought of Jonathan’s father ... the Joseph Tuggle Award. That will tell you how much the state bar thought of Jonathan’s father, and they think just as highly of Jonathan. He’s very well-respected and very well-liked.”
Jonathan Tuggle, 41, a 1991 graduate of Dalton High School, didn’t initially plan to follow in his father’s footsteps, especially so closely. When he graduated from the University of Georgia with a bachelor’s in business administration, marketing, he wasn’t sure where to go next.
“Dad said, ‘There’s no better education than to get a (juris doctor degree). You don’t have to practice if you don’t want to, but it’s a great education and great training,’” Tuggle said. “Once I got there, I realized litigation and practicing was something I did want to do. The question was what was going to be my area of practice.”
Jonathan Tuggle graduated from Mercer University’s Walter F. Georgia School of Law in 1998.
“Family law was the one area I had never really planned to follow,” he said. “I had no interest in it. I started out doing commercial litigation and real estate litigation. I did some zoning and land use work. It wasn’t interesting to me. It was not as interesting as I would have liked.”
Since Joseph Tuggle died the year after his son completed his law degree, the two never worked together professionally. But Jonathan Tuggle ran into some attorneys who had known his father and worked in family law.
“I liked these guys,” he said. “They had a great practice. I’ll just give it a shot. Whether it’s in my blood or what, I was drawn to it and love it. It was never the plan. It just sort of happened that I ended up in the same area.”
Miles saw Joseph Tuggle at their annual institute, a convention for family law attorneys, often.
“I remember I was at institute and all of a sudden Jonathan was practicing family law, and he was there,” she said. “That was the first time I had seen Jonathan in years. After that we continued to work together. I was on the executive committee for the Family Law Section of the state bar. We both help each other. The good part is that we both seek others’ input on things involving cases and how to best run the Family Law Section. I feel like we have a common bond both being from Dalton, I think that’s very special.”
Jonathan Tuggle said he knew Miles had become an attorney, but nothing else about her.
“We just sort of gravitated to each other based on our history,” he said. “We both worked our way through the ranks. It just so happened that I came right after Kelly (as chair.) Because we were both officers at the same time, we worked closely together at bar meetings and section meetings. Kelly is such a delightful person. It was through a culmination of all that we reconnected. I was fortunate to get into leadership positions. To follow Kelly was sort of a small world reminder.”
Tuggle said it is hard to follow Miles because she set such a high standard for the position.
“Kelly did a tremendous job,” he said. “She was always pushing the section to new heights, creating new programs, representing the section in different ways. She worked tirelessly. To know Kelly is to love Kelly. She’s a great lawyer. When you have a case with Kelly, as my dad would say, you better bring your lunch pail. She’ll outwork you. She’s tough. She’s an upbeat and friendly person. You can’t help but love working with somebody like that. Every day she is a pleasure. She’s also set a very good example and created a good model for me to follow.”
Miles also had not originally planned to work in family law. When she began looking for a job after law school, she wanted to return to north Georgia.
“There were very few women who practiced law in Gainesville,” she said. “I came and interviewed. They tease me now and say they hired me because I wore pearls to the interview. ... The first few years I practiced, I was signing my name under partners. No one in the firm did domestic work at that time.”
When someone came in wanting a divorce, Miles took the case so she could lead and not work under another attorney.
“I didn’t have to sign my name under a partner’s name,” she said. “I enjoy helping people. Every case is different. It’s never boring. I look at the clock every day and say ‘Please slow down.’ I fell by it naturally and because that area was not being held by anyone else in the firm.”
She has been with the same firm since July 1984.
“Gainesville is a lot like Dalton,” she said. “It feels like home.”
Tuggle said once he began practicing family law, he realized he loved having so much direct client contact.
“When I was doing commercial litigation or representing a developer, there wasn’t a personal interest in the case,” he said. “When you represent an individual, you have a great impact on a person’s life, their children, their money. It’s tight stakes. It makes it stressful but it’s also very rewarding.
“It’s a dynamic practice. It’s like trying to hit a moving target. I never get bored with it. Personalities are different. Situations are different.”
Tuggle’s wife, Amber, is a personal injury lawyer. They have a 10-year-old son, Will.