SAN FRANCISCO — Judicial picks may not be the first thing on President Obama’s mind, but the White House is said to be zeroing in on a potential nominee for the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Munger, Tolles & Olson partner Paul Watford, a Los Angeles appellate litigator who has clerked for Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has emerged as a leading contender for the nomination, say lawyers with knowledge of the process.