Predator doctor Johnnie Barto and his practice hit with first lawsuit since he was jailed

A boy and three girls who say they were molested by the Pennsylvania pediatrician filed the first lawsuit against Barto.
Dr. Johnnie Barto heads into Cambria County Courthouse in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania, on March 18, 2019, for his sentencing in the sexual assault of over two dozen children.Todd Berkey / The Tribune-Democrat via AP

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By Corky Siemaszko

When an angry mother complained that disgraced Pennsylvania pediatrician Johnnie “Jack” Barto fondled her 10-year-old son’s genitals during an asthma examination, one of the other doctors at the practice offered her own diagnosis.

Barto had an “odd bedside manner” and Dr. Elaine Confer said she would talk to him about it, according to court papers filed Wednesday in Cambria County Courthouse.

Whether Confer did talk to the now-convicted Barto about the October 2016 abuse accusation was not made clear in the court papers.

The alleged victim, who is identified as “JOHN PT DOE,” along with his mother, sister and three Jane Does, are suing Barto, the clinic in suburban Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where he worked with Confer, and a local hospital he was affiliated with.

It’s the first lawsuit filed since Barto, 71, was convicted of 69 counts of aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault, and endangering the welfare of children and sentenced in March to up to 158 years in prison.

“By employing Barto,” Laurel Pediatric Associates and Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center allegedly endangered the victims, the lawsuit, which is seeking unspecified monetary damages, states.

Laurel Pediatric Associates where Barto practiced beginning in 2000.Justin Merriman / for NBC News

Both entities were aware that Barto had been previously accused of molesting patients, and they kept him on the payroll anyway, the papers state.

“The collective silence of various individuals in addition to the Defendants constitute over acts committed in pursuance of the common purpose to endanger the welfare of children,” it states.

NBC News called Confer at Laurel Pediatrics, which is in Richland Township, Pennsylvania, to ask about the alleged abuse incident described in the court papers.

Confer had “no comment,” according to a message passed through the office’s receptionist.

Barto is serving his sentence at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Several women — who said the doctor molested them when they were children but were not part of the criminal case — described in a lengthy interview with NBC News ahead of his sentencing how the Johnstown community rallied behind him in 2000, the first time he was accused of abusing children.

"Two months ago we stood on these steps when Johnnie Barto was brought to justice," Erika Brosig, who said she was 12 when Barto molested her in 1994 and is not party to this lawsuit, said outside the courthouse. "Today we stand with our fellow survivors."

Once a familiar fixture in the community, Barto was hit with the staggering sentence two months after he first pleaded guilty to molesting two family members, and no-contest to three other allegations brought by children he was accused of sexually abusing at his practice.

When Barto entered his guilty plea last December, he also admitted to sexually assaulting more than two dozen children during the four decades he practiced medicine in and around Johnstown.

Calling him a "serial predator," Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Barto preyed on children “to feed his own sick desires.”

“He held himself out as a pillar in his community — a family pediatrician, an elected member of the school board, a regular attendee at church,” Shapiro said. “People trusted him.”

And Barto did not abuse only the children he saw at his practice — he also preyed on family members, including a 7-year-old and a 14-year-old, Shapiro said.

One of the lawyers representing the alleged victims is Sarah Klein, a former competitive gymnast who was herself abused by Larry Nassar, the disgraced Olympics gymnastics doctor who is now serving a life sentence for abusing dozens of female athletes.

Asked why some people in Johnstown continue to support Barto even after his admission of guilt, Klein replied: "There is no accounting for stupidity."