Charles C. Shelton, who headed the tax department at Semmes, Bowen & Semmes, this week left the law firm to join a small legal boutique in Pikesville.
Mr. Shelton became a partner Thursday in the newly renamed Basik, Bushel and Shelton, which specializes in state tax matters. In 1991 a former Semmes colleague, T. Scott Basik, set up the firm, which represents commercial property owners appealing their tax assessments.
"In a large firm there are complications in running the firm," Mr. Shelton said. "I thought that I would rather be in a smaller firm where I could spend more time practicing law," rather than dealing with administrative tasks.
"The state tax area that we're specializing in has become increasingly important in the last year or two," said Mr. Basik, who was an assistant attorney general in the state Department of Assessments and Taxation for four years before he joined Semmes in 1985. In 1991 he started the new firm with his former boss at the DAT, Kaye Brooks Bushel.
"There's a handful of people in the state who know how to do this," Mr. Basik said. "And now a majority of them are in this firm."
Mr. Shelton, 47, was a member of Semmes' executive committee and had headed its tax group for more than five years. As part of what he called a normal business transition, Mr. Shelton was replaced as head of the tax group a month ago by partner Herman Rosenthal.
Semmes has suffered a series of prominent defections in the last six months, and in the fall laid off about a dozen associates. The firm has acknowledged it has had trouble carrying its 250 West Pratt Street lease since the defections left it with a space too large for its needs.
The turmoil "was a factor, though not a major factor" in his decision to leave, Mr. Shelton said.
Semmes now has about 140 to 145 attorneys, according to Mr. Rosenthal.