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Charles Street, OneUnited to try bankruptcy mediation

Bankruptcy trial still set for August

Lawyers for Charles Street African Methodist Episcopal Church and its bankers are scheduled to meet this week with high-profile mediator Eric D. Green, the Boston University professor who handled the 2001 Microsoft antitrust case, to try to settle the church’s bankruptcy case.

Frank Bailey, the presiding judge over the federal bankruptcy case in Boston, suggested that the parties meet with Green, according to Ross Martin, attorney for the Charles Street AME.

“We are very excited about the prospect of having a world-class mediator,’’ Martin said.

A trial is still scheduled for August, in the event mediation fails. OneUnited Bank, which is owed nearly $5 million by the historic black church, has in recent months snubbed numerous entreaties to negotiate with Charles Street. In March, just before the church filed for bankruptcy protection, bank executives refused to meet with Charles J. Ogletree, a renowned Harvard Law School professor.

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Lawyers for the bank declined to comment.

Meanwhile, last Friday, lawyers for the church deposed Kevin Cohee, the chief executive of OneUnited Bank. Martin said his firm, Ropes & Gray, has deposed seven people for a potential trial, two of them representatives of the bank.

Cohee was affable when approached by a reporter after he finished his deposition, but said his lawyers would not allow him to comment.

Cohee has been publicly silent for months, even amid the community uproar over the bank’s plan to foreclose on the church’s property in Roxbury. There were community protests and gatherings of the city’s most prominent black ministers to show solidarity with Charles Street, a congregation that dates back to 1818 and was a gathering place for abolitionists when it was first housed on Beacon Hill.

The public fight between Charles Street AME and OneUnited Bank pitted two prominent black institutions against one another, but Cohee has kept a low profile. His wife, Teri Williams, who is president of the bank, and OneUnited’s general counsel returned calls from politicians and community leaders trying to reach a resolution between the two institutions, according to numerous Globe interviews at the time.

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OneUnited representatives have said they gave the church ample time to pay its debts on an ambitious community center it was building with OneUnited financing, and that the bank had no duty to make last-minute concessions.

OneUnited has come under fire since receiving a federal bailout in 2008. It has not yet repaid the $12 million in taxpayer funds, nor is it paying dividends on the money owed to the government.

The bank has had a poor community lending record in recent years, despite its mission to support moderate-income markets in Boston, Los Angeles, and Miami.


Beth Healy can be reached at bhealy@globe.com.